by Bob San
SUN PRESS SPORTS
Rich Gladen loved going to high school football games, especially Osseo High games at Carl Tonn Field.
“I don’t go to the Vikings or the Gophers games but I always like high school football games,” Gladen said in an interview Sept. 25.
In fact, Gladen hadn’t missed too many Osseo football games since 1972 when he became Osseo High’s athletic director. He served in that role until 1996, when he became the athletic director for the Osseo Area School District and oversaw Osseo, Park Center and the brand new Maple Grove High. He retired in 2003 but has continued to work in the district and attend games.
But because of declining health, Gladen has had to curtail his attendance at Osseo football games.
“I don’t know how many more football games I can go to. I am going downhill fast,” Gladen said.
This August, Gladen was diagnosed with a bone marrow disease that prevents its patients from making blood cells. Younger patients can have bone marrow transplant, but for patients over 60, that is not an option. Gladen, who just turned 75, now receives blood transfusion twice a week. He has lost a lot of weight, can’t eat much and feels tired.
Gladen was not feeling well and was visibly tired when he conducted an interview with the Press at his home in Dayton Sept. 25. But he perked up when talking about the years of working in the Osseo Area School District and the highlights and accomplishments he enjoyed.
“There are a lot of fond memories,” Gladen recalled. “Osseo had lots of good athletic teams and many good coaches.”
Gladen, who coached wrestling, football and track at LoRoy/Ostrander before coming to Osseo, had the pleasure of working with Hall of Fame coaches in the late Ade Pitmon (baseball), the late Ken Droegemueller (wrestling), John Hansen (football) and Dave Thorpe (girls’ basketball). Osseo was a powerhouse in those sports and had strong teams and athletes in other sports as well.
Two of Gladen’s children, Billeye and Darrin, both went to Osseo High and Billeye was a star athlete.
“Billeye was a setter in volleyball and played basketball and ran track,” Gladen said. “She went to state in all three sports.”
The ultimate highlight for Gladen was seeing Billeye and her 1989 basketball team win Osseo’s first basketball state championship. Billeye Gladen joined standouts such as Jessica Fiebelkorn, Kris Juntunen, Kari Olson and Dawn Rattray on a team that many Osseo sports observers called the best collection of female athletes in school history.
“They beat Little Falls in the state championship game,” Gladen said. “It was a real highlight to see your kid fulfill that success.”
Gladen oversaw all three district high schools as the district athletic director. His heart was with Osseo but he treated all three schools evenly. One of the achievements Gladen was the proudest of was that he played a leadership role in building new football stadiums at Park Center and Maple Grove.
“Park Center and Osseo both played at Carl Tonn Field for many years,” Gladen recalled. “When Maple Grove opened, they played there too, and we used to have football double-headers on that field. It was tough to schedule double-headers and parents weren’t happy.”
Gladen also talked about the changing rivalries among the three high schools.
“Osseo and Park Center had a strong rivalry and it was a healthy rivalry,” Gladen said. “The worst thing that happened was we had paints poured on the bleachers.”
Gladen recalled fondly the Thursday nights when he and then Park Center Athletic Director Del Mottaz would spend the night at Carl Tonn Field with flashlights to prevent vandals from striking.
Today, the Osseo-Maple Grove rivalry has emerged as the most intense rivalry in the district.
“A lot of kids from Maple Grove went to Osseo and they started to build a strong rivalry,” Gladen said. “I see a lot of really bad feelings between Osseo and Maple Grove and I am not sure that’s very healthy.”
Gladen has nothing but positive feelings about the years he worked in the district,.
“It was a good stint. Osseo is a great place to work,” Gladen said. “I never disliked going to work. I loved my jobs and I look back with confidence with the decisions I made.”
“He was a hard worker. He was always working,” said coach Hansen. “He ran state track meets and all the different playoff games. I just think he gave his heart to good ol’ Osseo. He worked very hard for the athletic department.”
Gladen wants to attend football and other sports but his health makes it difficult. He managed to go to the Minnetonka and Armstrong football games but the chilly night air is not good for him. So he follows the Orioles through the local papers and via the Internet.
This is not the first time Gladen has faced serious health issues. In 1974, he was diagnosed with cancer and had to have a kidney removed. Gladen said proudly that he was in the same wing of the Mayo Clinic as the Shah of Iran that year, both with cancer. Gladen beat the cancer and was healthy for the next 35 years. The Shah died not long after that.
“The doctor told me later that ‘the reason you survived was because you have a competitive spirit and a desire to win,’” Gladen said. “That’s half the battle.”
The cancer came back five years ago and Gladen has been receiving chemotherapy treatment. Then more bad news this August with the bone marrow disease.
Gladen knows that he is facing an uphill battle but he is not bitter and will deal with it with support from family members, friends and community people.
“I have a strong faith. That’s how I deal with it,” Gladen said. “I know it’s gotta to be God’s will. I will live with that. I have lots of family around me to support me. They understand what’s going on. I will take it one day at a time.”