History mystery: A notable pitcher
February 17, 2023
Jim Boyd had a repost on Facebook recently that we wanted to share. Boyd’s page, called “Cloquet, MN-1884 to Present,” is chock-full of historical Cloquet area photos and memories. He shared a memory from Kurt Hunter, a 1975 graduate of Cloquet High School, “of the day I played softball with the vice president of the United States.”
It was May 23, 1969, so Hubert Humphrey was then a former vice president, having lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon in the fall of 1968.
Humphrey was on a tour of the Iron Range that day, after speaking in Duluth the night before.
Here is Hunter’s engaging recollection of his day on a field with Humphrey at the Garfield School playground, where the public library is today.
“My elementary school was less than a half block from the house in which I grew up. When I was in sixth grade, we had an after-school intramural softball league. One spring day, during one of our games, a motorcade pulled up. Among other dignitaries, out stepped former vice president Humbert Humphrey. He was on his way to attend a dedication ceremony for the new high school, saw us playing, and decided to join in.
“I quickly ran home, grabbed my camera, and returned to snap a few photos of Humphrey playing softball with us.
“Years later, long after (Humphrey) had passed away, his son, Skip Humphrey, served as Minnesota’s Attorney General. My older sons were in elementary school at the time and participated in the anti-drug DARE Program. I was in attendance when he spoke at a DARE event at their school.
“As he walked up the aisle of the auditorium following his speech, I approached him, introduced myself, and said ‘Excuse me, Mr. Humphrey, do you have a minute to hear a story about your dad?’ He very graciously said ‘Yes, absolutely.’
“He was genuinely touched by the story of his dad stopping his motorcade to play softball with a bunch of kids, and told me how he hears stories like that all the time, how much it means to him, and thanked me profusely for sharing the story with him.”
According to records from the Minnesota Historical Society, Humphrey arrived in Cloquet in the late afternoon on that Friday after a drive down from Virginia. He spent a few moments at Larry Yetka’s house near the Cloquet Country Club before attending a reception and dedication of the new Cloquet High School at 4 p.m. Yetka was a former state representative who was then the city attorney for Cloquet. He would later be appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Humphrey recalled a pleasant visit that day when he returned in 1970 for an environmental symposium at the high school. “It’s good to be back,” he said.
Soon after the 1969 dedication visit, Humphrey made remarks to a group in the Twin Cities area about the visit, wrapped in talk about supporting rural communities: “I shall not forget my visit recently to Cloquet, Minnesota. It’s a wonderful community with a fine new high school. That splendid city. Its new hospital. Its community college. It’s symbolic, it’s typical of many of our communities across this state.”
Humphrey returned to the U.S. Senate in 1971, serving until his death in 1978. He had been in that office from 1949 to 1964, when he ran as vice president with Lyndon Johnson.