For a man known to be of few words, the late Ernie Koehler inspired a lot of them at the June 19 dedication of a Nowthen baseball field named after him.
Enthusiastic volunteers, city officials and the Minnesota Twins organization worked together to transform a pocket of the East Twin Lake Park into a ready-for-play facility. Volunteers including Nowthen Park Board Chairman Paul Reighard and Judy Herrala, said the field had consisted of dirt, a bit of fencing and two big logs that served as team benches.
Reighard said the project came about as the committee and community members talked about how to make the most of Nowthen’s park space. The field needed major alignment correction, fencing, dugouts, benches, dirt work, grass patches and bleachers.
Contractors removed the existing chain link and re-oriented the field to make the fence straight along the baselines, create equal proportions throughout the field and properly position the backstop and home plate.
A total of about $9,000 bought everything except spectator bleachers, which supporters hope to add later through more fundraising. Reighard said the Northwest Diamond Girls Fastpitch Softball Association installed and uses the portable, collapsible-type outfield fence in place on dedication night.
“Our whole goal was for the field to get used,” he said.
Herrala said as a season-ticket holder, she was familiar with the Twins’ Community Fund that disburses “Fields for Kids” grants each year. She did research and applied for the matching grant, but Herrala defers credit for the project to the city, other volunteers and all who supported it.
Herrala said hardly anyone used the substandard field before the improvements, but now it is used by hundreds. As the improvements progressed, it seemed logical to give “the ball field” a distinctive name, and so the quest began to find a fitting one.
Friends and relatives shared insight about Ernie Koehler, including his brother Joe, son Steve, daughter-in-law Chris, and friend Dennis Berg.
They confirm Koehler served on the Burns township board and Nowthen City Council for at least 30 years and recognized his extraordinary municipal service. He plowed snow, picked up garbage, started and ran the local recycling center, tended a dairy farm and was the “ultimate peacemaker.”
If there was conflict, he’d mediate it. He was known for driving to a person’s house but not knocking, instead he’d sit in the driveway and wait a few minutes for someone to come out then leave if nobody did.
The dedication crowd laughed and remembered how Koehler always drove too slowly and in a dirty vehicle. People commented about not even knowing when Koehler met his late wife, Alice. Berg said he didn’t know until talk turned to an upcoming city event and Koehler simply said, “Can’t go – getting married that day.”
He served many years with the Elk River Knights of Columbus, the St. Francis Lions Club and the Upper Rum River Management organization, as well as the Agriculture Stabilization Conservation Services. Koehler helped with elections, served as a fire warden and attended church every Sunday.
He was also known for delivering milk, repairing wells, keeping calm and listening much more than he talked. Ernie and Alice Koehler received the University of Minnesota’s 1986 award for Outstanding Farm Family in Anoka County, and former Governor Arne Carlson declared March 12 Ernie Koehler Day.
Nowthen Mayor Bill Schulz said the newly improved field will eventually have a sign, too, that bears Koehler’s name.