For Fronczak, there’s no difference... yet

It’s been 32 years and

35 miles — each way

The school year came to a close last June. Without much fanfare, Larry Fronczak packed up his things and went home.

That was the same as it had been for 32 years for the Tartan special education teacher.

But last June was a bit different. When this fall rolls around, Fronczak won’t be back.

After 32 years at Tartan (he came on board back in 1973) Fronczak retired.

“Nothing feels any different,” Fronczak said recently. “It’s just like every other summer. (Retirement) hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ll notice the difference in the fall.”

Fronczak then mentioned he’s been asked, and has accepted, to return to Tartan as the tennis coach of both the boys and girls.

Throughout his 32-year tenure at the Oakdale based institution, Fronczak has been involved with sports. He has been head coach of both boys and girls tennis and of girls hockey.

He was also involved with baseball, as assistant to North grad and former Tartan head baseball coach Clyde Doepner.

For a couple of years he was the “trainer” for Tartan football.

Fronczak grew up in Chicago and went to a Catholic grade school, then on to a parochial high school.

He continued his background in Catholic education by attending St. Mary’s College in Winona.

At St. Mary’s, he played baseball and hockey.

It was natural for him to matriculate to Benilde High School when he graduated with a degree in education.

But he received some advice while at St. Mary’s that helped him later. As a young man, just out of college, Fronczak never gave much thought to retirement, but one of his mentors at St. Mary’s talked about the advantages of retirement that may have helped influence his decision to move into public education.

He’s burned a lot

of gasoline

While at Benilde, Fronczak became interested in kids with learning disabilities. He was working on his master’s degree and switched his attention to Special Ed.

Then Tartan boys hockey coach Vic St. Martin influenced his coming to Tartan.

“I finished my masters studies and was looking for a job,” Fronczak explained. “St. Martin got me to apply. I was looking and I started to be pressured by Benilde, so I left without having a job. Finally, I got a call from Tartan.”

Fronczak signed the contract and, within a week, got four or five more calls.

During the 4-year tenure at Benilde, Fronczak became established and bought a home in New Hope. He and his wife Fran have three grown children, Jeanne (33), Matt (30) and Brian (27), and still reside in New Hope.

New Hope is not exactly a convenient commute to Tartan High School. Fronczak made clear that it is 35 miles from his home to Tartan.

That’s 70 miles a day. Figure it: 70 miles a day, 180 days in a school year, 32 years, and you come up with a pretty phenomenal number.

Add to that practice sessions and games on Saturdays, along with meetings and that figure mounts to something close to 500,000 miles - a little more or a little less.

“I’ve used up quite a bit of gasoline over the years,” understated Fronczak with a chuckle.

He had some

second thoughts

Tartan, founded in 1970, was a new school in 1973. As a matter of fact, special education was pretty much a new endeavor in 1973.

Fronczak walked into Tartan to begin a new career.

“The first person I saw when I walked in the door was Clyde Doepner,” Fronczak said. “He was there in beat-up blue jeans and with long hair. He had earrings. I looked at him and thought, ‘What the heck have I gotten into! This must be some kind of tough neighborhood.’ Then, later, I found out it was ‘Back to the 50’s Days’.”

Now, some 32 years later, Fronczak has left a legacy at Tartan.

When he started, there were just two people in the Special Ed Department; Fronczak and Herb Lohse.

“Golly, now there must be - counting all the support staff - 12 or 15 people in the department,” he said

But if Fronczak had early trepidations, those thoughts have been diffused through the years.

“I’ve been fortunate because of the kids and the people I have worked with,” he said. “Jean Milton came into the department from social studies. As a pair, we were a good match. Our strengths together made for a good team. I’ve been fortunate. When I stop to think of all the people I’ve taught with over the years, there’s been a lot of good people. That’s been a real positive thing.”

One of those people was Ron Souter, a former School District 622 school psychologist. Souter passed away several years ago due to complications from Crohn’s Disease.

“He was a great guy that we really missed,” Fronczak said. “Every time he was in our school, we hung out and spent time together. He was just a wonderful person.”

He’s had a lot to

do with people

His work at Tartan with kids was described by Fronczak as, “ ... kind of an educational mishmash. It was never the same thing two days in a row. It was putting ‘Band-Aids’ on problems. You just did whatever you needed to do.”

Fronczak transferred those same skills in dealing with the kids he coached. He was for many years, the assistant coach to Doepner on the baseball field.

Back in the early 1980’s the Titans were runners-up in the section tournament and Fronczak recalled another time when Tartan won the conference championship.

Fronczak chuckled when he thought back on his relationship with Doepner. At times, in the heat of a game, the obstreperous head coach became a bit too tumultuous.

“I got thrown out of a couple of games because of things he said,” laughed Fronczak.

But it was tennis, as boys and girls head coach, or behind the bench of the girls hockey fortunes, which occupied most of Fronczak’s coaching duties.

Through the years, there were spans of little success, but Fronczak stuck with it.

“It was tough getting your butt handed to you in many of the sports,” he said. “But I’ve had some great kids over the years. They were good kids who never stopped working hard and trying.”

Fronczak’s teacher qualities took over as he continued.

“It was never Wimbeldon or the Stanley Cup. We were working on teaching kids to skate or swing a racket. We were working on developing people.”

Tartan activities director Lee Alger had a good relationship with Fronczak. When asked for an assessment of the coach, Alger summed it up simply.

“He’s a class act,” Alger stated. “He really deals with a lot of fundamentals with kids. His work in special education helps him recognize things in people. He has never given up on kids. He’s dealt with a lot of different stuff with different kids.

“Others may have said, ‘To heck with it.’, but Larry has stuck with it. He’s kept his patience. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teacher/coach.”

Tartan needed

new tennis courts

For years the Tartan tennis courts either needed or were constantly under repairs.

For as many years, Fronczak lobbied for new courts. When Alger came to Tartan he was met with Fronczak’s frustrations.

Alger told Fronczak that the tennis courts would be built and the AD was met with skepticism: “I’ll be dead and long gone before you get me new tennis courts,” Fronczak retorted.

Alger accepted the challenge and when the new tennis courts became a reality, he promptly erected a sign that read, “Larry Fronczak Memorial Tennis Courts.”

Fronczak’s response: “It is nice to have new courts. But the idea of them being ‘memorial’ kind of bothers me.”

So, the affable coach has retired. He’ll be back for tennis in the fall and spring. But come next month, he will no longer be in his familiar niche at Tartan.

Fronczak has a couple of irons in the fire as far as tennis is concerned, “ ... and I haven’t ruled out doing something in girls hockey.”

But Larry Fronczak, who always greeted peers with a joke (they were bad, but he told them anyway) will continue to be remembered.

His legacy will persevere, for Fronczak had a maxim he lived by. On his desk, each morning, he peered at a quote by Maya Angelou,

It read, “People won’t remember what you say. People won’t remember what you do. But people will never forget how you make them feel.”

Those who came to know Fronczak will feel sad he’s gone.

Quick Takeoffs

NORTH activities director DIANE MORIN has put out a call for ALL former NORTH High coaches to attend the Centennial Celebration this coming weekend. There will be a “Coaches Corner” (1-5 p.m., Aug. 13) where alumni can visit their former coaches. Among the many items of memorabilia will be pictures of All-Conference teams from many of the past 100 years of NORTH High athletic teams . . . Included with the many other activities celebrating the NORTH Centennial, will be a 5K run that will begin at 8:30 a.m., Aug 14, in downtown NORTH ST. PAUL . . . Former TARTAN fast-pitch softball coach TOM NEMO was one of two coaches who lead an all-star team (NORTH grad KALLIE SAMUELSON and HILL-MURRAY grad COLLEEN CONWAY were also team members) in the 14th Annual MINNESOTA, IOWA, WISCONSIN softball challenge held Aug. 9, in STEVENS POINT, WI . . . The plaque, designating the gymnasium at NORTH as the “HAL NORGARD Gymnasium,” is in place and will formally be dedicated as part of the NORTH Centennial celebration at 2:30 p.m., Aug. 13. The 200-pound plaque (at a cost of nearly $5,000) was sponsored by the NORTH ST. PAUL Lions, with longtime friend and associate of NORGARD, BOB ENGWER, spearheading the effort . . . Hey, here’s a package to consider. The ST. PAUL Ski Club will hold a summer ski jumping tournament Aug. 14, beginning at 1 p.m., at it’s MAPLEWOOD-based, nordic facility. The “free” tournament is a USSA-Central Association sanctioned tournament and is expected to bring in some 50-75 competitors from throughout the upper mid-west. Grab a kid or two and venture out to swat a few mosquitoes, while watching competitors soar from the 45-meter HARRINGTON Hill . . . Hey RUTH, you hang in there!

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