James Deane’s family didn’t own a car. As a child who grew up in the 1930s and ’40s, he got around mainly by running. It became a lifelong passion, something he passed on to students who ran track and cross country on the teams he coached for more than 40 years at Osseo High School.
As an advocate for outdoor recreation, Deane was instrumental in helping Maple Grove develop its extensive park and trail system during his tenures as a City Council member and mayor. He served as a commissioner and was board chair of the Three Rivers Park District. He led the park district in the early 2000s to drop admission and allow free entry to its parks.
“He had a tremendous love for parks and trails,” said Maple Grove City Administrator and friend Al Madsen. “He was a man of high principle and great integrity. He was a fine man and highly respected by everybody in town.”
Deane, 82, had been ill for a few years and died Sept. 1.
He arrived at Osseo High School in 1958 and started the school’s track and cross-country running programs. He also served as athletic director and taught physical education. Over the years, his teams and many individuals earned state honors. He led rigorous practices that included training runs on land that is now the Elm Creek Park Reserve. Each year, he made elaborate books with meet results, team records, photographs and newspaper clippings and gave them to team members. Deane retired from teaching in 1990 and from coaching in 1999, said his daughter, Polly Filing, of St. Paul.
“He pushed us hard in practices and expected a lot from us,” said David Chatelaine, an Osseo High graduate who ran cross country at the University of Minnesota and is now head track and cross-country coach at Owatonna High School. “Coach Deane put in a lot of extra time to make sure we had a quality cross-country and track experience. He has had a huge positive impact on hundreds of young people he touched through his teaching and coaching.”
Deane graduated from St. Paul Murray High School in 1951 and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of St. Thomas and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. He was named the 1970 Cross County Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Track and Cross Country Coaches Association. In the same year, he was named the Osseo School District’s Teacher of the Year. Students, too, honored him with praise, dedicating the 1966 yearbook, the Oriole, to him.
“Mr. Deane could be considered as the man who brought Osseo statewide recognition,” his tribute page said. “He is a man who demands respect and work from all his team and they devotedly give it.”
As Maple Grove’s mayor from 1981 to 1994, Deane oversaw the city at a time when the largely rural community was becoming a bustling suburb. On his watch, the city developed its long-range park plan that Madsen called “the Bible we follow.” Today, the city has 55 miles of paved trails and 79 parks totaling nearly 1,500 acres.
“He was the driving force [behind that],” Madsen said. “We were starting to get into development, and he handled that very well.”
Deane moved over to the Three Rivers Park District from 1997 to 2006. He led a move to drop admission fees.
“He saw that as a financial barrier,” said Boe Carlson, the park district’s superintendent. “That was a simple policy decision, and he touched more lives in a meaningful way than with a new trail.”
He is survived by his wife, Joyce Deane, of Maple Grove; two other daughters, Jenny Bruening, of Mosinee, Wis., and Tricia Leck, of Chaska; a sister, Lorraine Schelling, of Orlando, and six grandchildren. Services have been held.