U mourns death of longtime gymnastics coach at age 95

Former University gymnastics coach Ralph Piper died Dec. 26. He was 95 years old.
One of only eight head coaches in the history of the University’s gymnastics program, Piper served as either assistant or head coach nearly every year from 1929 to 1970.
His teams won six Big Ten championships and finished second in the nation twice. In addition, Piper coached 34 Big Ten and six NCAA individual champions.
In and out of school in the beginning of his life, Piper returned to high school and college later, eventually going on to earn his Ph.D. in education.
He worked as an instructor, physical education trainer and coach at Kansas State College before coming to the University in 1929. While here, Piper ascended from an assistant professor to an associate professor, and eventually to a full professor.
During his time at the University, Piper left for brief periods to explore other arenas.
He served as an officer in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946. During that time he was chief of the rehabilitation program at Walter Reed Army Hospital, working with soldiers who had lost limbs.
Piper also took several opportunities to travel and teach around the world as part of the Fulbright teaching scholarship program.
During the 1956-57 school year, Piper coached swimming at the University of Rangoon in Burma, during 1962-63 he worked at a university in Teheran, Iran, and in 1966-67 he helped establish a graduate school of physical education at a university in Baghdad, Iraq.
In 1970, Piper retired and spent time in Florida and California. Some of his hobbies included dancing, particularly ballroom and square dancing, as well as athletics.
Piper also wrote several training manuals, physical education books and articles about dance during his career and in his retirement.
Piper moved back to Minnesota in 1998 and in the last two years had to have both his legs amputated as a result of poor circulation. Despite the surgery, he remained active.
For his years of involvement in sports, Piper had been named to the National Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the National College Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the United States Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Gopher Sports Hall of Fame.
— Compiled from staff reports.