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Baseball legend Jacobson honored in 'Down Memory Lane'

Russ Jacobson gives his wife Shirley a hug during the "New York Mills... 125 Years of Progress" program held Saturday at the school. Jacobson, who has been a part of baseball in Mills for better than 50 years was honored for his committment to baseball in the community.

The "Walk Down Memory Lane" and "New York Mills... 125 Years of Progress programs held Saturday at the school were a big hit and provided interesting history of the community.

Organized by Rachel Eklund, the look back at history featured, among other program highlights, a baseball tribute to Russ Jacobson, and a presentation by Dean Simpson of Dean's Country Market.

Simpson was asked what is his most memorable moment in New York Mills.

"Probably 1984 centennial celebration on Saturday night in front of City Hall; Carl Peltoniemi stood out in front of city hall about 10:00 at night and said, 'this has got to be the greatest place to be - New York Mills, Minnesota.'"

Simpson's answer drew a loud applause from the crowd attending the program. He went on to say when Rachel Eklund asked if he would be willing to talk about New York Mills, and about his grocery store, "I said I would do that because you really don't tell Rachel no," Simpson said. "It really doesn't work in her vocabulary. She's just done an excellent job putting this program together."

Simpson, along with his wife Kathy, had the opportunity to buy Fritz General Merchandise from Mandy Fritz, who passed away a couple months ago at age 95. Simpson called her a "great New York Mills supporter her whole life."

They bought the store on Main, which is where the flower shop sits now. The store had two grocery aisles - 25 feet wide and 160 feet long. And the best part was, Simpson recalled, you could set your cart in back and it would beat you to the front.

He said they spent about six years there before, with the support of many people in the community, they were convinced to build a new store out by the highway in the fall of 1977. Dean's Country Market joined Gene Imsande's Standard station, which was the first to move by the highway. Highway 10 went around town in 1972.

"The community has supported us very well over the years," Simpson told the assembly.

Dean's added the drug store in 1988 after an outside company purchased the town's drug store at the time and closed the doors, indicating prescriptions would be filled in Perham. The community did not like that idea and went out and found Nathan Seip, who came to Mills and opened his first drug store. There are now eight Seip Drug stores in small communities in the area.

Russ Jacobson honored

Jack Herr assembled a group of old ballplayers to honor the man Herr called "Mr. Baseball of New York Mills", telling the crowd Russell has been involved in baseball since who knows when.

Jerry Vandermay played for Russ and the Millers for six years in 1965. When he was asked to speak during the program, he didn't know exactly what to say about Russ. Vandermay said he attended a graduation party in Staples near the ball park in that town. And that's when Vandermay said he had a "Russ Jacobson moment." He walked over to the ball game and saw a lawn tractor. It was dirty and smelled like oil. There were guys on the baseball field and they were having fun, Vandermay said.

"I felt myself drawn to these guys. All of a sudden I could smell the leather gloves, hear the crack of the bat, and it just set me off. I could see the sweat and the dirty uniforms. There were all kinds of things happening on the field that brought back fond memories for me. All of a sudden it was 1968."

That's when Vandermay realized what to say about Russ, and it was very simple.

"Russ is a good man. He cares deeply about the community, his family, about people, and don't forget baseball."

Vandermay went on to recognize all the things Shirley Jacobson has done for this community in supporting Russ and baseball all these years. Vandermay recalled how Russ and Walt Dresser recruited him from the Homestead team to play in Mills. Russ took care of his players. He found them jobs. He found players houses to live in and did what he could to put good teams on the field for New York Mills. Russ even helped Vandermay and his wife finance their first home.

Vandermay closed by saying Russ has done many great things for the community and baseball, and has taught him an appreciation for the game he still carries with him 40 years later.