George Keith is remembered for all he did for the kids as a longtime coach and athletic director
By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN Those who knew George Keith would likely tell of all the things he did for the Cokato community, and how he always had the welfare of its children in mind.
Having recently passed away at the age of 84, George is remembered for all the ways he helped to make Cokato a fun place for kids.
He and his wife, Jane moved to Cokato in 1955, after accepting a teaching position at Cokato High School, where he taught mainly social studies and driver’s education, and coached cross country and wrestling.
A few years later, George became the athletic director, a position he held until he retired in 1984.
Don Shoutz of Cokato, remembers working with George and how easygoing and laid back he was. George had encouraged Shoutz to become an announcer for various high school sporting events.
“It was fun to work with him,” Shoutz said. “I always appreciated being around the guy.”
Dassel-Cokato Activities Director Perry Thinesen said he has fond memories of George, both as one of his teachers and the athletic director.
“It was obvious he had a passion for kids being in activities,” Thinesen said.
“He did a lot of great things during his time at Cokato and DC Schools,” he said.
With the hope of keeping kids active and out of trouble, George started Cokato’s little league baseball program. When the program started in Peterson Park, George made sure the park was well-equipped for playing ball, complete with lights and the backstop.
George also organized men’s and women’s softball leagues and, along with his wife, initiated the first prom in the 1960s, which actually took place at city hall.
“He worked under the premise, ‘you got to have things for kids to do or they will get into trouble’,” said his son, Steve Keith.
“That’s why Dad became a teacher and a coach, because he believed in kids,” Steve said, adding that his mother supported his dad all the while.
“Mom would always be there, working in the concession stands,” Steve said.
“I would cook the [egg] coffee to serve it at the [football] field,” Jane said.
The couple also reopened the movie theater in town. Their good friend, Duane Peterson, helped run it while they owned it for a short time, and all the kids would help out.
“Again, they wanted to ensure they had things for kids to do,” Steve said.
Steve recalled when families would come in who were light on cash, and George would tell them to “go on in” and wouldn’t charge them anything.
“It wasn’t about the money,” Steve said, noting the theater wasn’t a moneymaker. “It was maintaining something for kids and families to do in town.”
“He didn’t do things for the personal glory,” Steve said. “It wasn’t about him.”
During the Cokato Corn Carnival, George had a fishing pond game down at Peterson Park where kids could pay for a chance to catch a goodie bag. He would then donate the money to the school’s athletic club for equipment needs.
George received recognition for the work he did in school and within the community.
In 1983, George received the Region 5 Athletic Director of the Year award.
Norm Quanbeck, Cokato, taught with George and remembers the region wrestling tournament for state in what is now the Cokato Elementary auditorium.
“It was quite an undertaking, but he pulled it off,” Quanbeck said.
Jerry Peikert will never forget the lesson George taught him, that kids always came first.
George told Jerry that on meet nights, he would look behind him to see which of the wrestlers’ parents were in the stands. If their parents were there, George would always be sure to give them an opportunity on the mat.
“That was a valuable lesson. I never forgot that,” Peikert said.
When he retired in 1984, George was chosen as WCCO Radio’s Good Neighbor. His grandson, Marc Keith, is also working to put his name on the wall of fame at DC High School.
Born and raised in Amboy, MN (near Blue Earth), George graduated high school and served in the US Navy during World War II. George was also active in Cokato Legion Post 209.
“He was born on Veterans Day, and couldn’t have been prouder to serve his country,” Jane said.
She said that while wintering in Yuma, AZ, following George’s retirement, the town would have a parade on Veterans Day. George would joke that the town was having a parade in his honor.
The couple was married 62 years. “I kept telling him I needed an Olympic medal,” Jane said jokingly, adding that he was both a great husband and a “super” father to their five kids, Steve, Linda, Cindy, Calvin, and Lisa.
Five years ago, George suffered a stroke. With his health failing further, George died peacefully in his sleep Jan. 19 at his home.
“They had a good life together,” Steve said of his father and mother.