Robert D. Gelle
Robert D. Gelle
Robert Dean Gelle, age 87, passed away peacefully in the loving presence of his wife and children on August 3, 2018.
Bob was born on June 1, 1931 in Osakis, Minnesota to Frederick and Selma Gelle. Bob married Jane Jacobson, whom he had known his entire childhood in Osakis, on June 15, 1952.
At Osakis High School, Bob excelled in athletics. He was named to the 1948 Minnesota All-State football team and won a Minnesota state championship in the shot put. After graduating from Osakis High School in 1949, Bob attended the University of Minnesota on a football scholarship. Despite earning a starting position as a linebacker as a sophomore, Bob gave up football and transitioned to a basketball scholarship. As a three year starter in basketball, Bob was captain and MVP of the 1953 Gopher basketball team. A four sport athlete at the U, Bob also played baseball and threw the shot and discus for the Gophers. Bob was most proud to be the recipient of the Big Ten Conference Medal, an award reflecting his selection as the top senior scholar/athlete at the U in 1953. He completed his Master's Degree in Physical Education at the U in 1959, and later completed coursework toward a PhD in athletic administration at the University of Oregon.
Drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1953, Bob instead fulfilled his Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) obligations at Fort Meade in Maryland. Upon returning to Minnesota in 1956, Bob taught social studies and coached for one year at Edina High School. Bob ("The Big Bopper") began his 35 year career at St. Olaf College in 1957. He served as head men's basketball coach from 1957-1981. At the time of his retirement from coaching, Bob was the winningest men's basketball coach in school history. His teams won four Midwest Conference championships and earned three berths in the NCAA College Division National Tournament. In 2007, the competition floor at St. Olaf was named "Bob Gelle Court". Bob also served as an assistant coach in football and track and field, and retired as a professor in the physical education department. He was named Athletic Director in 1972 and served in that capacity until 1989. Under his leadership, St. Olaf added 15 sports including 12 women's programs. The culmination of his career was as lead fundraiser for the $3.5 million "Athletes for Vision" campaign for the construction of Tom Porter Hall and the track and field facility. In 2001, Bob was the first non-St. Olaf graduate inducted into the St. Olaf College Athletics Hall of Fame.
Beyond his many accomplishments, Bob's legacy is in the many lives he touched. A beloved husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, coach, teacher, mentor and friend, he exemplified integrity. He lived a life of faith and service. An active member of St. John's Lutheran Church of Northfield, he served on numerous committees. His gregarious personality matched his physical presence. His quick wit entertained while imparting important life lessons. In his retirement, Bob continued to teach and support his nine grandchildren who were profoundly influenced by and will greatly miss their "Bumpa."
Survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Jane Jacobson Gelle; children Mark (Claudia), Nancy, Fredric (Debra), and Susan (Scott) Nelson; grandchildren Andrea, Matthew (Jessica) Nelson, Maren (Paul) Henderson, Jessica (Jacob) Burns, Elizabeth, Nathan, Molly (Jared) Britson, Hannah, and Amy; and great-grandchildren Camden, Otto, and Penelope.
Sincere appreciation is extended to the nurses, doctors and staff at the Northfield Hospital Long Term Care Center for their kind, compassionate and loving care for Bob (and his family) in his final days.
In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorials to St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield, or to the Gelle Family Endowed Scholarship fund at St. Olaf College
Visitation will be on Tuesday, August 7 from 5:00pm to 7:00pm in Buntrock Commons at St. Olaf College. A Celebration of Life service will be held on Wednesday, August 8 at 3:00pm at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield.
Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com