HIBBING — Dick Garmaker is gone, but he left a lasting impression on the people who knew and loved him.
The former Hibbing High School, Hibbing Community College, Minnesota Gopher and Los Angeles Lakers standout passed away last Saturday at the age of 87.
Garmaker leaves behind his wife, Darlene; his son Stu, and his wife Judy; his grandson Grayson; his daughter-in-law Denise Garmaker; sister-in-law Virginia Rahja; sisters Joni O’Neil and Jeanie Barto; and his brother Tom and his wife ZuHui. He was preceded in death by his oldest son, Steven, in 2015.
He also leaves behind a legacy of basketball, graduating in 1950 from Hibbing High School, then attending Hibbing Community College through 1952, where he earned All-American honors on a basketball team that would finish second at the National Junior College Tournament.
Garmaker moved on to the University of Minnesota, on scholarship, playing two years for the Gophers. He would achieve Big Ten All-Conference honors, along with being a consensus All-American selection in 1955.
Garmaker was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers as a territorial draft choice. He played for the Lakers for five seasons, and he was named a four-time NBA All-Star. Garmaker was traded to the New York Knicks in 1959, finishing his career in 1961.
He was inducted into the University of Minnesota Hall of Fame in 2011, and his No. 53 jersey was retired on that same day.
Along the way, Garmaker made a lot of friends, who remember him fondly.
But the person who knew him best was his son Stu.
The youngest son of Garmaker, Stu spent a lot of time with his father on hunting and fishing trips, and a number of sporting events along the way.
One of those events was in 1988 at the Final Four in Kansas City.
Oklahoma, Arizona, Duke and Kansas were the four teams still remaining in the tournament.
“He called me up (from Naples, Fla.) and asked me if I wanted to go to the Final Four,” Stu said. “I said, ‘OK.’ His coach at Minnesota, Ozzie Cowels, got us some tickets, so he caught a direct flight to Kansas City.
“We went to the hotel and saw all kinds of coaches. Everybody you wanted to meet was there.”
As they walked in the lobby of the hotel and to the elevator, they ran into Bobby Knight.
“My dad says, Bobby, I’m Dick Garmaker, it’s a pleasure to meet you,’” Stu said. “Knight said, ‘Dick Garmaker, what I remember about you is when you were playing with the New York Knicks, you were playing the Celtics, and you took Bob Cousy to the post and burned him all night long.
“I’m thinking, ‘He’s just my dad,’ but that’s what Knight remembered about him. He burned Bob Cousy in the post all night long.’”
Stu also has many memories of hunting and fishing with his father.
When he was 14, the two of them took a trip to the Lake of Woods.
“We were fishing with a couple of other family friends, and one night, my dad and I took a canoe with a two- or three-horsepower motor to look for some moose on an evening trip,” Stu said. “All of a sudden we see a plane spiraling down. Gar points up, shifts his weight, then we flip over.
“We’re swimming in Lake of the Woods. We swam to shore, and I got that motor started.”
They didn’t know what had happened to that plane, but as the two of them were about to embark on their journey home, Garmaker inquired about the spiraling airplane.
“The guy looked at us and said, ‘There was no plane crash. There’s an aerobatic pilot that flies around here,’” Stu said. “Those are the kinds of memories I have with him.”
On another occasion, Stu and and his father took a fishing trip to Reindeer Lake in Saskatchewan.
They flew out of the Twin Cities at midnight, went through customs in Winnipeg, then they flew into Reindeer Lake, expecting to catch their share of Lake Trout.
“On that first day, we didn’t catch one trout. The whole camp didn’t catch a fish,” Stu said. “The next day, my dad says to the guide, ‘I’ll give you five bucks for every Lake Trout we catch.’”
That caught the attention of the guides.
“The day before, we trolled steady and nothing,” Stu said. “That day, after he made the offer, those guys shifted their whole way of thinking. If we didn’t get a bite in five minutes, we’d move to another place.”
Suffice it to say, Garmaker lost about $75 or $80 that day.
“We got back to the lodge, and nobody else caught a fish,” Stu said. “We ended up catching fish for the whole camp. We caught a lot of trout. I have a lot of good memories. Everything was fun with him.”
One of Stu’s other special memories involved his son, Grayson.
Grayson used to sleep over at his grandparents’ house every Friday night. That’s where he learned how to play cards.
“They taught him how to play Poker at a young age,” Stu said. “Grayson loved it. Gar was an excellent card player. They also taught him to play Cribbage.”
Former Hibbing High School athlete Pat Milinovich was just a young boy when Garmaker was working on his craft, but he had met Garmaker several times over the years.
“My mother told Dick the story about how my dad’s mother asked me if I had a picture of Jesus on my bedroom wall,” Milinovich said. “I told her I didn’t, but I did have a picture of Dick Garmaker on the wall.
“He started laughing saying he couldn’t even get his grandkid to do that. Whenever he came through the area, he always stopped by to see and talk with my dad. What a legend.”
One of Garmakers closest friends on the Gophers basketball squad was Charlie Mencel.
Due to transfer rules, Garmaker had to sit out a season, but he did get to practice. That’s where he met Mencel.
“We became teammates my junior and senior years,” Mencel said. “I remember him as a wonderful human being. He was a great basketball player. We had many wonderful times over the years.”
It was a friendship based on more than just playing basketball together.
“When we would travel south, we would stay with him, coming and going,” Mencel said. “We maintained our friendship all those years. We’d go on fishing trips and play racquetball together. We were close friends from the beginning.
“He was a blessed part of my life.”
When his college career was over, Garmaker moved on to the Lakers. Mencel was drafted by the Lakers, too, but his plans changed.
“I was in ROTC, so I had to serve after I graduated,” Mencel said. “When the team moved out to Los Angeles, my wife and I had started a family, and we didn’t want to move.
“That ended our relationship on the basketball court, but he was still a great part of our lives. We’ll miss him.”
On the court, Garmaker’s shooting ability set him apart from his teammates and peers.
He averaged 24.8 points per game in Big Ten competition, which is tops in Gopher basketball history.
“He had an incredible jump shot, and a turn-around jump shot,” Mencel said. “He had a knack for getting himself free for a shot almost anywhere on the court.”
What elevated Garmaker’s game was his ability to shoot that turn-around jump shot. He emulated that after another Gopher great, Whitey Skoog.
“Whitey was his mentor,” said Curt Swenson, who met Garmaker at the University of Minnesota in 1952 at Pioneer Hall. “He’d watch how Whitey shot that patented fade-away jumper, then he wore out the baskets in Hibbing because he was shooting so much.
“He was hard to defend. You could be in his face, then he would jump backward. He was fun to watch play. Dick was a pure scorer.”
Swenson didn’t have a relationship with Garmaker on the basketball court, but they were good friends off of it.
“We’d go golfing, fishing and hunting geese on Hudson Bay,” Swenson said. “We used to go to my cabin (on Cross Lake) for golfing and fishing. We were lifelong friends. He had a magnetic personality. Everybody was attracted to Dick.
“He loved to laugh. That’s the way he was. He played a big part in my life.”
Ben Heider got to know Garmaker through Stu. Heider is a petroleum geologist, and Stu had a geology degree, so that’s how the two of them connected.
“They asked me if I had a place for him to work in my department, so Stu worked for me and with me,” Heider said.
Stu was living in Tulsa at the time, while his father was in Naples, Fla. When Thanksgiving rolled around, the Heider’s invited Stu to their home for dinner.
“My kids would call him uncle Stu,” Heider said. “At Christmas, Dick and Darlene came to our party, and they gravitated to us because we were kind to their boy. Dick took an interest in what Stu was doing in the oil business.”
Heider has many stories about Garmaker, including drinking martini’s with him, but the one that sticks out involves a hunting dog named Gus.
“That story always got embellished, but a bunch of guys got together to buy a hunting dog, and it was always somebody else’s turn to take care of the dog until it was time to go hunting again,” Heider said.
At one particular time, one of Garmaker’s friends who lived in Seattle, in a home overlooking Puget Sound, was in charge of taking care of the dog.
His basement was a modern-day version of a man cave, with a pool table, bar, lounge and other amenities.
On one evening, they decided to go out to eat, so they left the dog alone in the house.
“They blocked off the rest of the house, and left Gus in the basement,” Heider said.
When they returned home to have a nightcap, the scene in the basement was chaotic.
“The whole downstairs was destroyed,” Heider said with a laugh. “The drapes were ripped. The pillows were ripped. The sofa and carpet were chewed up. The glassware was broken, and the liquor bottles were broken.”
The only thing that survived the assault was a one bottle of bourbon, so they poured a drink and sat down to consider their options.
“It was a disaster,” Heider said. “They had no other choice but to call the police and tell them that somebody came in and vandalized the place, otherwise they couldn’t get the insurance to cover the damage.”
The dogs’ owner filled out a report, and as they were walking upstairs, the police officer said, “That’s a nice dog,” They asked him if he wanted it, and he said, “Yes.”’
“They gave him the dog,” Heider said. “It’s not as good when I tell it because Dick had a more robust way of telling that story. He was a good friend. He will be missed.”
Another lifelong friend was Bill Baker, who knew Garmaker for 65 years.
Their friendship began after Garmaker got out of basketball.
They met at the Minneapolis Athletic Club. They played together on basketball team at the Club, but both Baker and Garmaker were working in the business world. They connected right away.
“Dick was a good humored guy, but at the same time, he was strong-willed,” Baker said. “Anybody that gets to the top of their profession is usually strong-willed. He was a hard worker and competitive. He didn’t like to lose.”
The two of them would travel to Scotland to play golf. During one particular round at Gleneagles, Garmaker shot a 63 on the front nine.
“Sandy, who is my Scottish friend, took him aside and said, ‘Dick, I can’t take it anymore. Take the club back, and bring it through,’” Baker said. “I don’t know what it was, but that simple, little lesson registered with him.
“He shot a 39 on the back nine. He was so proud of that.”
According to Baker, Garmaker was quite the storyteller, but he would get so involved in telling the story, that he’d forget to finish some of them.
“He’d talk about it for a minute or two, then he would chuckle to himself as to how the story ended,” Baker said. “After that, he would transition into uncontrollable laughter, and tears would start rolling down his cheeks.
“My recollection is we never heard the end of most of his stories because he was laughing too hard to finish them. He enjoyed thinking about it as he was talking about it. He was a wonderful friend, and a first-class individual, without a doubt.”
Garmaker had some health issues over the past few years, but even so, his passing hit his friends hard.
“On Saturday, I got a text from Darlene saying that we lost him,” Baker said. “I was shocked and surprised. You never get used to that. Thank heavens for memories because these people do live on in your memory.
“They might not be the same vibrant and vital people they were when they were younger, but their personality is exactly the same.”
Mencel and his wife had been in constant contact with Darlene, so the news wasn’t so shocking to him.
“When he went into the hospital, it wasn’t a surprise to us,” Mencel said. “It was clear things weren’t going well. We’ll miss him a great deal. He won’t be forgotten.”
Swenson said, “The news hit me hard. I’m losing too many friends.”