« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Jeff Kolpack, Published April 16 2013

Photo with Jackie Robinson a keepsake for former Cobbers players

Moorhead - There are many history classes that await the seven grandsons of Keith Bangs, who range from ages 3 to 13. But perhaps nobody can tell the story of integration and Major League Baseball better than their grandfather, who on one day almost 50 years ago met the man who changed the game.

For the 1964 Concordia College baseball team, it had all the makings of just another day to go across the river and play the North Dakota Agricultural College, which of course is now known as North Dakota State. That’s when Robinson, who was in town to speak to the C400 Club, was brought over to meet the team.

“Just his graciousness, his demeanor,” said Bangs, a retired teacher living in Owatonna, Minn. “He was one of these people that when you talk to him he gave you the impression he was interested in what you had to say rather than so many of these pro athletes who give this air of you’re wasting my time. He definitely was not that way.”

Bangs went to the movie “42” last weekend and later told his 12-year-old grandson Michael Bangs about meeting Robinson. The kid couldn’t believe it.

“His eyes just got real big,” Keith said.

Now he has photo evidence of it, which is showcased with former Concordia head coach Sonny Gulsvig shaking hands with Robinson. Bangs is standing just behind but between both legends, as if they perfectly framed him.

“What a thrill,” he said.

Marcella Gulsvig, Sonny’s widow, said she remembers how thrilled Sonny was to shake the hand of a baseball legend.

“I remember him saying he was never going to wash his hand again,” she said.

Robinson died in 1972 and Sonny passed away in 2008. The photo, however, will remain a Cobber legacy.

Team member Rod Olson has a copy in his den at his home in Crookston, Minn. With the movie reviving the legend of Robinson, he told his wife he needs to get copies of the photo to family members who have an interest in baseball.

“I’ve always cherished this picture,” said Olson, holding it in his hand while talking on the phone. “Just for the monumental importance of what he did for baseball.”

Not lost in the photo are what became of the team members, with several following Gulsvig’s footsteps by either teaching, coaching or both. For instance, Paul Brynteson, who said Tuesday it “was an honor” to meet Robinson, is a retired professor from Northern Arizona University.

Jim Howson had a distinguished coaching career in Hatton, N.D., winning more than 500 basketball games. Ironically, Olson recently talked with Howson about the Robinson photo.

Bangs is still coaching boys golf in Owatonna, his 49th year as a coach.

“I certainly appreciated everything Sonny gave me,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago, but, yeah, he gave me a lot.”

And for the seven grandsons, it’s a certainty they will know the story of Jackie Robinson.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at

(701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia