Anoka County History: Mason 50 years ahead of his time

Les Mason, a teacher, an athletic director, a coach, and the holder of 22 high school championships, came to us at Anoka High School in 1927.

Lee Mason was a teacher, coach and athletic director at Anoka High School from 1927 to 1942, then later in his life he was mayor of the then-village of Coon Rapids. He is pictured in May 1958 buying a poppy from Carolyn Brown and Sherry Hasselfedt at the Coon Rapids American Legion. File photo

Lee Mason was a teacher, coach and athletic director at Anoka High School from 1927 to 1942, then later in his life he was mayor of the then-village of Coon Rapids. He is pictured in May 1958 buying a poppy from Carolyn Brown and Sherry Hasselfedt at the Coon Rapids American Legion. File photo

Until that time, Anoka had football, basketball and, baseball but did not have an organized athletic department.

When Mason came he organized a department that included all the sports.

In 1941, Bill Carlson, a sports writer for the Star Journal wrote the following under the title “Miracle Man Mason:

“’Anoka has won its share of championships,’ and Anoka fan writes.

“But that, folks, is a mastery of understatement.

“Why, since Les Mason assumed control of the athletic reins at Anoka high school, that suburban institution of learning has gradually enhanced prestige until now it is recognized for one of the standout athletic setups in the state.

“There isn’t a more well-rounded program in the state. And championships? Anoka has won so many titles in the last 10 years it’s a surprise the ‘Break up the Yankee’ cry hasn’t moved into the sixteenth district.

“Twenty-two of ‘em!

“‘We look to the winning as does every school (Chicago included) but we try to give every boy who desires athletic competition a chance to take part in the sport he wants,’ says a spokesman.

“No boys are ever cut from an Anoka athletic squad.

“They may be demoted, but never told to ‘quit, because you’re no good’… which is something probably no other school in the state does.”

Carlson goes on to list the 22 championships, which I won’t do here.

When I said 50 years ahead of his time, it was because in the 1930s he taught us good health habits that did not become popular until the 1980s.

He taught us to drink lots of water, sweat a lot, keep moving, stretch a lot and stay active.

He also organized swimming and life guarding for the city of Anoka at the Rice Street Beach.

That is where I, and most Anoka kids, learned to swim. He taught many of the older kids to become life guards. Had Moberg, Drew Thomas and Jack Roddy were among those he trained.

When Mason retired from teaching and coaching in 1942 he became public relations director at the New Brighton arms plant for Federal Cartridge.

When World War II was over he went back to teaching and coaching in Park Rapids, where he won five more championships.

After retiring (again), he became the first mayor of the new village of Coon Rapids in 1955 and was re-elected in 1957.

In 1958, he was elected to the city council when Coon Rapids incorporated as a city.

In 1959, he was appointed as Coon Rapids’ first city manager.

He died in 1970 and much of which I have written was mentioned in his obituary.

I want to note here that all of his pallbearers were former athletes of his. They were Bill Matheny, Jim Farrier, Bob Johnson, Amidore Hauff, Lauren Turnquist, and Ray Kegler.

The honorary pallbearers were Bob Ehlen, Arch Pease, Ralph Lynn, Oscar Sell, Glen Haven and Joe Craig — all well known leaders of the Anoka and Coon Rapids area.

This 5 foot 7 inch man was not only 50 years ahead of his time but was a giant with his contributions to Anoka High School athletics but to the entire community.

Editor’s note: Tom Ward serves on the board of directors for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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