U honors alum, former wrestler for service

Melinda Rogers

Former professional wrestler Stan Kowalski still remembers the highlight of his college days at the University.

Although he played football for the Gophers from 1948-50 on the same team as former Vikings coach Bud Grant, Kowalski overlooks this experience when recalling his favorite memory from the past.

“I was in a speech class and the teacher told us to go home and pick a speech topic for the next day,” Kowalski recalls.

“Well, I was too busy with other things, so I ad-libbed my speech. I still got an ‘A’ on it. I felt pretty good about that,” Kowalski said.

On Thursday, Kowalski returned to the University to give another speech, but this time he didn’t have to worry about a grade.

Kowalski gave an acceptance speech after receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award for accomplishments in community service from the Board of Regents.

“This is a person with a lot of heart to give. We certainly could use more people like Stan Kowalski in the community,” said Steven Thielen, an associate professor of military science who nominated Kowalski for the award.

“The award is just a token to highlight all he has done,” Thielen added.

The regents chose Kowalski for his years of volunteer work in the community.

Kowalski began making speeches for the United Way in 1966. At age 75, he still makes hundreds of appearances each year to drum up support for the organization.

Kowalski is a member of numerous service groups, and the award from the regents isn’t his first honor.

He has received Man of the Year honors from the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Outstanding State School Board Member, an AFL-CIO Outstanding Community Service award and four Melvin Jones Awards – the highest award in Lionism.

“Few people ever get one of those in a lifetime,” Kowalski said of the Melvin Jones Awards.

Kowalski was chosen to be an Olympic torch bearer in 1996, an award he says tops the list of recognitions.

But that’s not to say Kowalski isn’t thrilled to be honored by the University.

“There are thousands of graduates from the U and to pick me out, I thought it was fantastic,” Kowalski said.

While known for being active in the community, Kowalski is equally known for the impact he made in the professional wrestling world from 1955-76.

“Krusher” Kowalski won 19 major titles including an American Wrestling Association World Championship tag-team title with Tiny Mills in 1960.

He was recently elected into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, a place, Kowalski said, reserved “for the old school guys who really had to wrestle.”

Kowalski is hoping to use his wrestling fame to head a fund-raiser for the University’s athletic departments in the fall.

An avid Gophers fan, Kowalski still holds season football and basketball tickets.

“I’m proud of my University. I like what they’re doing,” he said.

He plans to continue his service to the United Way and to the rest of the community throughout his lifetime.

“It’s kind of an oddball thing, but people around here call me Santa Claus. You want something, you go call Stan,” Kowalski said.

Just don’t be surprised if that something is ad-libbed.

 

Melinda Rogers covers the Board of Regents and welcomes comments at [email protected]