Saturday, August 18, 2018

Sports

Life story: St. Arnault was giant in Eau Claire baseball

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    Glenn St. Arnault holds up a copy of his book of memoirs, “Play Ball” in 2013.

    Staff file photo

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    Glenn St. Arnault was at the Buddy Holly concert on jan. 26, 1959, at Founier's Ballroom. He remains a Buddy Holly fan and designed the T-shirt for John Mueller's "Winter Dance Party" tribute concert coming to Eau Claire later this month.

    Staff file photo

Glenn St. Arnault, affectionately known as the “Good Saint,” was a mighty big man — not only in physical stature.

How big?

“He is on the Mt. Rushmore of Eau Claire baseball,” is the way it was put by Mark Faanes, who has been involved with city American Legion ball for three decades.

For nearly 60 years, St. Arnault played a key role at all levels of the sport from Little League on up.

And as a board member of the Eau Claire Cavaliers, he was still active at the time of his death at the age of 79 last Thursday.

“He was a friend to everybody,” said Bill Rowlett, executive director of the Eau Claire Express. “He had an influence on an awful lot of kids in town.”

St. Arnault’s adventure through baseball was accompanied by Dick Gannon, his assistant through the years.

“He moved into the neighborhood when he was 12 and we played sandlot ball at the Lee Street playground,” Gannon said. “I was with him all the way and we were best friends for 70 years.”

The Gannons and St. Arnaults had dinner last Friday and Gannon was told that Glenn was hospitalized Sunday.

“I saw him Monday and they were waiting to do tests,” Gannon said. “He had a heart attack Tuesday but Wednesday he seemed stabilized. I was at the Cavaliers game Wednesday night and found out he passed away Thursday. I didn’t expect that.”

Rowlett had a meeting with St. Arnault last Thursday and said Glenn was lamenting the dropping of the Little League minors program — one in which they grew up with on the city playgrounds.

“He had lost weight but was feeling good,” Rowlett said. “We knew he had heart issues but he was outgoing.”

St. Arnault is best remembered for leading the Legion Post 53 team to back-to-back state championships in in 1969 and 1970 and his role in the formation of the Cavaliers for the 1971 season.

“We had great Legion teams and decided to form a team to keep the players together through college,” Gannon said. “We never felt it would last 48 years.”

Joining St. Arnault were Roger Bohlig, Gene Koupal and local sports enthusiast and Big Joe’s Pizza owner Joe McCauley in the formation of the team that included some of the best athletes from Eau Claire and the surrounding area.

One of those players was pitcher Randy Millis, who was named to the Cavaliers’ 25-year honor squad and later served 12 years as club president.

“He was a great friend and his loss is a big one for the community,” Millis said. “He had great knowledge of baseball fundamentals and was mild-mannered most of the time. He got local kids who wanted to play at that level into the program.”

St. Arnault was field manager of the Cavs from 1971-75 and returned for two years in 1977 and 1978 and finished with a 244-62 record. A winner? Yes he was.

Another player to come under St. Arnault’s wing was shortstop Dave Johnson, who played two years of Legion ball under him and all seven of the Cavaliers seasons.

“He was a great motivator, always there for you,” said Johnson, voted the Cavaliers “Mr. Baseball” in the 25-year poll. “He walked around the field with a fungo in his hands just waiting for you to ask him to hit some balls.”

St. Arnault turned the reigns over to Harv Tomter in 1979 and went back to Babe Ruth League for a good reason — to coach son Greg. He went on to coach at the Babe Ruth and Little League levels through 2012 — even returning to the Legion for a one-year stint in 1985.

The St. Arnaults — Glenn and Judy — raised children Greg and Cindy. Greg was a standout baseball and basketball player at Memorial and they supported their children and grandchildren through the years.

St. Arnault was also active outside of baseball. He was a fine player in basketball in the YMCA Young Men’s League for many years, remembered for his deadly bank shots.

“He had a one-inch jump shot but could he shoot,” said Dave “Lucky” Schroeder, who served as scorekeeper for many of the games.

He also officiated basketball for 25 years and was well-respected. His calls “were impeccable and I never saw anyone question him,” Rowlett said.

Another friend was Don Larson, who he accompanied to Buddy Holly’s appearance here at Fournier’s Ballroom in 1959, shortly before the Rock ‘n’ Roll king was killed in a plane accident in Iowa.

“He went to Clear Lake (Iowa) for the Holly tributes several times,” Larson said. “He was a great friend.”

But it was baseball that St. Arnault was destined to become famous for.

It started in 1954 with the East Side River Rats playing in the City Rec League at the Lee Street playground. In 1957 he got into Little League coaching at age 18 and moved up to Babe Ruth League in 1960.

Rowlett handled the Legion team for two years but stepped down with too heavy a load after the 1964 season.

“I was aware of St. Arnault and approached him about taking over,” Rowlett said. “He jumped at it. He inherited a good bunch of players.”

In his six years, St. Arnault took four of his teams to the state tournament, winning the last two and posting a 168-59 record.

He was inducted into the Eau Claire Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009 as a no-brainer and in 2013, he wrote “Play Ball,” an interesting account of his memoirs through 55 years. It helps reveal just how many lives he touched and influenced through his passion of coaching baseball.

Gannon was with St. Arnault through the younger levels and later served as a director and treasurer besides his field coaching.

“He had a great memory,” Gannon said. “Who did this and when? He could always come up with an answer. And he always enjoyed talking to his former players.”

In recent years, St. Arnault would attend local games and you could easily hear that familiar voice shouting words of encouragement to the kids.

“I went to the Cavalier game last week and sat where we always sat,” Gannon said. “It just didn’t seem the same without him.”


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