By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Writer/Video Producer
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – When Maury Meyer heard the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s Minnesota Chapter was honoring the late Fr. Otto Weber ’57 with its Lifetime Achievement Award, the longtime coach and administrator at nearby Albany High School could not have been more pleased.
The award will be presented to the former coach and employee at both Saint John’s Prep and Saint John’s University in a ceremony to be held on Nov. 24 in the Great Hall.
The event runs from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The program itself is scheduled to begin at 2. The event is free, but donations are being accepted. Checks can be made payable to NWHOF-MN Chapter.
To RSVP, click on the link at the top of the page, email email@example.com or call 612-910-0731.
“My first reaction was ‘Of course,'” said Meyer, a 1973 graduate and former wrestler at Saint John’s himself.
“I couldn’t believe they hadn’t honored him already. He was extremely influential in wrestling in this area. But he never took too much credit for his own accomplishments.
“He was not the kind of man to boast or brag about himself at all. He was always keeping his nose to the grindstone. In that way, he really exemplified the Benedictine work ethic and values.”
Meyer got to know Weber well over the years, first as a student and wrestler at St. Cloud Cathedral High School in the late 1960s when his teams had some legendary battles with Saint John’s Prep, where Weber served as head wrestling coach for many years.
Meyer then had him as a coach himself at Saint John’s in the early 1970s when Weber was helping out then-Johnnies head coach Terry Haws. He later competed against Weber and Saint John’s Prep again as the head coach at Albany, a position he held from 1976 to 2003.
But he may have gotten to know him best while working at the summer wrestling camp Weber established at SJU.
“Those camps had a major impact,” Meyer recalls. “He would get some of the top clinicians in the state to come up here and take part. I still run into people who recognize me because I was a counselor at that camp all those years ago.
“There were a lot of state champions and state place-winners who came through those camps over the years.”
Weber – who died of a heart attack at age 53 in June of 1987 – graduated from Saint John’s Prep in 1952 and went on to become a standout wrestler for the Johnnies, winning the MIAC title at 147 pounds in 1954.
He then embarked on a long career at the Prep School, serving as a coach in multiple sports and also as dean of students.
Weber was also the coordinator of intramural programs at SJU. And, in addition to the wrestling camp, helped establish a summer leadership camp at the Prep School as well.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1961.
“For 32 years and a day, Father Otto lived a Benedictine life in vowed pursuit of perfect charity through a monastic manner of life,” wrote then-Saint John’s Prep headmaster Br. Linus Ascheman in a tribute following his death.
“Father Otto never flagged in that pursuit – indeed, his pursuit was steadfast and energetic. The pursuit of perfection or, to use his coaching expression, ‘to strive for one’s personal best,’ was Father Otto’s constant goal – and a goal which he attemp¬ted to instill in the thousands of students he taught, counseled, disciplined and coached.”
When Haws died tragically at age 49 of a heart attack while with his team at the National Catholic Invitational in Cleveland in February of 1973, it was Weber and others who stepped in to help lead the Johnnies through the season’s conclusion.
Just as he had when Haws had previously suffered a heart attack the season before.
“I can remember him holding Mass for the wrestlers in his hotel room after (Haws) died,” Meyer said. “He was a really important part of keeping us together and helping us get through that.”
And Meyer said Weber was always well-respected among his peers in the coaching profession.
“Otto brought together at those camps, at the same time, the most notable coaches in the state,” he said. “And there was a lot of sharing of philosophy and techniques that spread from there throughout the state.
“Coaches like Ken Droegemueller (Osseo), Dick Pullen (St. Michael-Albertville and Monticello), Don Dravis (Staples), Gerry Gingles (Canby) and Roy Minter (Ridgewater Community College). All are Hall of Fame coaches, all had the utmost respect for Otto.”
That legacy is why he is being honored with the award on Nov. 24.
“He was a pioneer when it came to putting wrestling on the map in Central Minnesota,” NWCA-Minnesota Chapter board member Mike Bredeck said. “He did an awful lot to help the sport grow.”
Weber is the fourth Johnnie elected to a wrestling hall of fame. Haws received the 2008 Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award from the Minnesota chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. John Elton ’80 and Brandon Novak ’01 were inducted into the Division III National Wrestling Coaches’ Association (NWCA) Hall of Fame in 2007 and 2017, respectively.
Check out Johnnies Wrestling at gojohnnies.com.