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Mike Hannaher, Published September 10 2011

Heroic Maris beat the odds

Growing up in Fargo-Moorhead in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we learned about possibilities. Examples set on the national scene by a select few seemed to be the norm. We took it for granted that you didn’t need to come from a big city to do big things.

Anything was possible. Judge Ronald Davies, a lawyer from North Dakota, became a federal judge and on assignment in Arkansas in 1957 he issued a desegregation order directing that the Little Rock Nine be allowed to attend Central High School. President Dwight Eisenhower enforced that order by directing the 101st Airborne Infantry Division to Little Rock.

I was 8 years old in 1957. The depth and vision of Judge Davies’ actions were not something I could grasp until later years, but nonetheless, the fact that a judge from the Red River Valley could make history like this made an impression.

My first love was baseball. My dad did radio sports broadcasting for KVOX, and I spent many summer evenings in the press box at Barnett Field in north Fargo taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark, watching our own Fargo-Moorhead Twins. A young man named Roger Maris, a Shanley High School graduate, played one season for the Twins. Roger made it to the big leagues in 1957, the year of the Little Rock Nine. He came back to Fargo after the season and needed a winter job and my dad hired him as an account executive for KVOX.

Of course, Roger eventually ended up playing for the New York Yankees and in 1961, against all odds, he set the single-season record by hitting 61 home runs. He hit number 61 on Oct. 1, and I remember where I was when I heard the news – playing seventh-grade football at Concordia Field. My dad had a transistor radio and each time I went to the sidelines I would ask him if Roger had done it yet. When he hit it we all were so happy. One of Fargo’s own had proven that anything is possible.

Today we continue to have fine role models. Exemplary judges emerge from the Fargo-Moorhead practicing bar, including Federal Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye and Federal District Court Judge Ralph Erickson. Outstanding sporting figures like Matt Cullen (Stanley Cup Champion), Chris Coste (World Series Champion) and Amy Anderson (USGA National Champion) continue to emerge to inspire us that anything is possible. Sadly the Rose Bowl seems elusive, but some of us won’t stop believing.

But the 1961 achievement of Roger Maris stands out as unmatched. He set the home run record with skill, smarts and strength, not steroids. Roger was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in 1983 and died in 1985. But at the Roger Maris Cancer Center at Sanford Health his legacy lives on. We will honor that legacy, and the 50th anniversary of that remarkable 1961 season, with a celebration on Sept. 22. A nostalgic look back will be highlighted by vintage film footage and the night will feature remarkable stories and features about the work that goes on every day at the Roger Maris Cancer Center.

This event is called “Against All Odds” to reflect on both Roger’s inspirational achievement and upon the gritty determination shown by cancer patients every day. It will feature a personal message from Pat Maris, Roger’s wife.

Let there be no doubt, the event is a fundraiser for the Roger Maris Cancer Center, where community philanthropy helps to provide special treatment for patients every day. For more information go to www.rogermariscancercenterevent.org.

But this event is more than a fundraiser. The evening will put an exclamation point on all the other 50th anniversary commemorations that have been held this year. It will celebrate what we all hoped for in 1961 and what Roger proved: that against all odds anything is possible. Indeed, a good mantra for young and old alike in 1961 and 2011.

Hannaher is the director of major gifts and planned giving at the Sanford Health Foundation in Fargo.