Gonshorowski Brothers Kick-Started Greenbush Wrestling

By Jeff “Bro” Olsen

In Greenbush, Minnesota, some names will forever stand out, starting with the Gonshorowskis, and not because they’re able to dunk a basketball.

Only if they’re standing on a stepladder!

On the mat, they were tough as mongooses.

Raphael Gonshorowski was the most successful Greenbush High School wrestler ever at the collegiate level when he wrestled for Moorhead State.

He’s a legend.

On the mat, he was a fierce competitor, and nobody got a free ride. It was a war!

He earned All-American honors four straight years at Moorhead State College and, along with two of his brothers and even more Gonshorowski cousins, fielded Greenbush’s inaugural wrestling team in 1959-60.

They had wrestled out on the farm even before Greenbush hired Dale Roth, a former Mankato State wrestler, to start the program in 1959.

Who’d you wrestle from Mankato State, Raphael?

“Oh, my goodness, I can’t remember who I wrestled. I should but I don’t. It’s been so many years ago.”

It didn’t matter who his opponent was. For sure, it wasn’t a piano recital. Raphael on the mat was impressive.

He turns 80 in July, stays in shape playing pickleball, and it’s even money he could still get the takedown on anyone half his age.

His nickname is Raph; he’s five-six and tips the scales at 150.

Wrestling programs started up late in northwestern Minnesota as compared to the southern part of the state and Owatonna in particular.

High school wrestling dates back to the late 1930s and early 1940s in that part of the state.

If wrestling arrived late up here, it quickly caught on.

As a freshman, Lawrence Gonshorowski holds family bragging rights. The 1945 model was the first state entrant at 95 pounds for the Greenbush Tigers in 1960.

As a junior in 1960-61, Raph made his first state appearance but didn’t place.

His senior year, the 1944 model took runner-up honors at 127.

And let’s not overlook the oldest brother, Michael, a 1943 model, who placed second in the section but didn’t advance to the state tournament because only one wrestler at each weight class advanced out of Bemidji.

On Sunday, May 5, 2024, on his 81st birthday, Michael could still replay that loss 63 years later, right down to the final seconds.

What’s amazing is that Raph never talked about his fantastic college career.

For the record: In 1963, as a freshman, Raphael placed 5th at 130 at the NAIA. In 1964, he placed 5th at 137 at the NAIA as a sophomore. In 1965, he placed 2nd at 147 at the NAIA as a junior. His senior year in 1966, he placed 6th at the NAIA at 147.

According to his recollection, he never missed a match at Moorhead State. He mentioned none of his successes during numerous interviews.

“I started out coaching in Browns Valley for one year out of college.”

He next moved to Eddyville, Iowa, to start the wrestling program there.

“I used to watch Dan Gable wrestle at Iowa State a few times.”

Raph then moved to Washington, Iowa, as the head wrestling coach at Washington High School, where he coached his two sons.

“The oldest one, Matthew, was a state champion his senior year and took third twice. My youngest son, Bobby, was a two-time Iowa state champion.”

Years ago, Raph wrestled in an old-timer tournament in Knoxville, Iowa.

“I won it and got a trophy!”

He coached at Washington High School for nine years and earned a master’s degree in Industrial Arts.

The Moorhead State College Athletic Hall of Famer didn’t fool around in competition or practice.

Ever wrestle Bucky in practice?

“Oh, I tried. He wouldn’t. He said, ‘You’re too $%(&@&# big for me.’ My son, Bobby, wrestled for him for a little while.”

His other son, Matthew, wrestled for Bobby Douglas at Iowa State.

“You knew that I wrestled Bobby twice. I was a freshman at Moorhead State and wrestled him out East in the NAIA.”

How’d you do?

“He beat me like 13 to 1 when I was a freshman. He didn’t pin me though. Then I wrestled him at Oklahoma State, and I didn’t beat him. He told me, ‘This is the toughest match I’ve had since the PAN AMs.’ Actually, what happened was, I had him on his back with a cradle and he beat me by like four points. Yeah, he was good.”

Then Raph added that he never wrestled Dan Gable.

That would have been something for the farm kid from the sticks in rural Greenbush.

“He’s been to my house, but he didn’t want either of my sons though.”

Michael is 14 months older than Raph, who is about 14 months older than Gabriel.

Just once, he recalled the state title match against Bo Henry, the state champ from Owatonna.

“I had won three matches before losing 7-3 in the state finals. The Greenbush Tribune had reported that I went for broke as I was losing 4-3 and had to gamble. Henry got the takedown and a point for riding time to win 7-3.”

Raph and his wife Linda reside in Washington, Iowa.

He’s not exactly forgotten.

John Alexis, a native of Harrisburg, PA, and now living in St. Paul, was an All-American at Mankato State and competed for Rummy Macias from 1962-66.

He remembers a very solid performer.

“Raphael was very good and tough out on the mat, and very physical. We knew him,” Mr. Alexis said with appreciation.

Another old wrestler, Dave Wilson, 81, who never wrestled Raph, stands in awe.

“As far as I am concerned, whenever we went to wrestle Greenbush, Raph was the best wrestler and impressed me the most. I don’t think anybody from Thief River ever beat him. All I can remember is that I was very impressed with him then, and have remembered his name since. He was fun to watch, even when he was taking on our Thief River guys. I still remember him along with the Hazewinkles and a few other good ones.”

THE NAME CHANGE

Lawrence (Gabriel Monroe) Gonshorowski is 78 and lives in Moorhead, not far from Michael.

“I’m about five-four and shrinking,” he said, adding that he tips the scales at 150.

“I don’t know if I can make 120.”

The brothers were born in May 1943, July 1944, and October 1945.

He’s no longer Lawrence Gonshorowski.

“I changed my name to Gabriel Monroe. I wanted a shorter name.”

His late dad asked him in 1991, “What have the Monroes ever done for you?”

So, it had to be asked: Who are the Monroes?

“I don’t know. They’re from Scotland.”

He was the first Greenbush wrestler to make it to State in March 1960 as the Region 8 champ at 95.

“There was just one class, and I was with every big city kid, and I had only like a few months of experience.”

Did you ever wrestle Raph as a kid?

“Oh, a little bit, but he always beat the hell out of me. Oh yeah, he was tough. Mike was tough, too.”

They all wrestled for Dale Roth.

“I qualified to state as a freshman and a junior, but I never placed at State.”

At Moorhead State, one of his workout partners was Bobby Maughan. He never wrestled Bucky.

Bucky Maughan doesn’t require a last name,

The D-1 NCCA Champion for Moorhead State in 1964 was a hugely successful NDSU Bison wrestling coach.

And now Gabriel Monroe, frequently referred to as Gabriel Lawrence by his brothers and other family members, considers himself a lucky guy.

“I wrestled one year, 1963-64, and then I was in the Army for two years. I was in Korea for 13 months in ’65 and ’66, and I was short so they didn’t send me to Vietnam. They sent out 90 percent of our compound – planes, helicopters and things. I was the lucky one that stayed back. I was ready to go back to the States in a couple of months.”

Gabriel went back to college on the G.I. Bill and graduated in 1969 with a degree in elementary education.

All three brothers from a large family earned teaching degrees.

After teaching in California for 15 years, Gabe returned to Moorhead State and earned a master’s degree in counseling and student affairs.

“I’m pretty much retired although I’m going to start doing a little bit of substitute teaching. They need subs.”

Gabriel is a versatile guy.

“In ’95, I got a job with the airlines, and I worked on the ramp here in Fargo, loading baggage, fueling airplanes, and de-icing for Northwest Airlines.”

In 1995, he married his second wife, Debora Harrin, a college professor who teaches the flute at Concordia College.

“And she plays in the symphony and opera. Sometimes, she goes to Europe to play.”

Gabriel is the father of four kids and a grandfather of five.

“They’re all out in California.”

And then came a happy memory about then Lawrence Gonshorowski, just a freshman, who defeated TRF senior Dave Wilson in the section finals.

“He cut so much weight. He was a senior, and he was at 98 pounds. I thought I’d get beat by him. In the second round, he didn’t have any steam left and I’m like, “Oh, my God! I can beat this guy.”

And he did.

“Give him my phone number, and I’ll apologize for beating him.”

Reached recently, Davey Wilson, 81 and now living in Ely, has always remembered that match.

“My coach made me cut down to 98 and I had no strength. He threw the legs in and I couldn’t get away.”

OLDEST BROTHER

Michael taught elementary school in Dilworth until he retired.

He’s happy to talk about the very first Greenbush Tiger Wrestling Team. It was like a family reunion.

“James and Charles Gonshorowski, our cousins, were on the team. Mark Gonshorowski was at 165. There were about six Gonshorowskis on that team the first year.”

Who knows how good Michael might have been as a collegiate wrestler.

Everything changed with the car accident in July 1962.

“I spent six months in the hospital in Mankato after the accident on July 10, 1962. It happened between Mankato and St. Peter, and I didn’t get out until Christmas time.”

The worst damage was the top of his left hand and the compound fracture to his right femur.

“With the femur, they attached an 80 pound weight to my leg and there was constant pressure pulling it apart. They could only get it so far and they finally gave up. The leg is shorter than the other one.”

At Mankato State, he’d been on the wrestling team for one year prior to the car accident.

“Al Deleon was in the same weight class as he was. I only wrestled at Northern Iowa in an open.”

How he ever got to Mankato is a stretch, but the credit goes to Dale Roth, Greenbush’s first wrestling coach. He had wrestled for Rummy Macias at Mankato State.

Michael recalled that Coach Roth chose to coach in Greenbush because Roseau had hockey. So, he came to Greenbush.

He was at home in Moorhead with his second wife, Su Botner, who’s kept her previous married name.

“I didn’t change my name because Gonshorowski is kind of long for a kindergartner.”

Su recalled that Mike’s parents didn’t want him to leave the farm, but he wanted to go to college.

“He left with a suitcase, got on a train, didn’t know where he was going, and didn’t have any money. He was going on a whim but he wanted to wrestle,” said Su.

That’s how he ended up at Mankato State, and his workout partner was the great Al DeLeon, who must have taken a liking to Mike because he didn’t end up in traction.

The following year, after he got out of the hospital, he went to Moorhead State.

Mike is battling Parkinson’s disease just like he did any other tough opponent. There’s no quit in the 81-year-old.

“He’s really active and he’s trying to not let it get him down,” she said. “It’s really hard because it’s such a regressive and progressive illness.”

Way back in 1966, Mike got a call from the school superintendent of Lake Mills, Iowa, just across the border from Albert Lea.

Did you start the wrestling program in Lake Mills?

“I sure did! In fact, they had their 50th anniversary party, and they treated me like a king. It was a Fourth of July parade in 2017.”

One of his former Lake Mills wrestlers had contacted him.

“They called Mike and we went to the celebration. There had only been a few coaches and they were all there. You would have thought Mike walked on water. Mike was in tears practically. It was so touching how they treated us.”

It was during that 50th anniversary in Lake Mills that Mike first learned of his nickname – “The Claw!”

One of his wrestlers said, “I bet you didn’t know it, but we called you that behind your back.”

Mike was laughing.

“Once you grabbed onto us, we could never get loose from the claw!”

Ask any wrestling coach: Did you get out on the mat with them?

“Yes, I did! When I first got there, I wrestled with them, you bet.”

These are old memories for Mike, who recalls that the first team he wrestled against in December 1959 was Thief River Falls.

“My dad didn’t come because he thought we’d get beat, and we won handily.”

There were a lot of Gonshorowskis on the inaugural team.

“I think we had about six or seven!”

The town, of course, is populated with the Polish, all of whom know how to handle themselves if someone calls any of them “dumb Polacks.”

“Look at the legacy they started in different communities,” said Su, a Thief River Falls native. “It’s a pretty amazing story.”

Mike had sat on the bench in basketball. He asked the coach when he would get in the game and was told in a little bit.

“The hell with this,” he recalled. “I’m not going to waste my time in basketball.”

He found his niche on the mat when Dale Roth rolled into Greenbush to change all the Gonshorowskis’ lives.

He made the section finals his senior year only to lose by a single point to advance to state.

“In that last match to go to state in 1961, I was ahead but was taught to be aggressive. And I didn’t need to be agrressive. I was two points, three points ahead of him and I wound up on my back and got beat.”

In his 1961 freshman year at Mankato State, Mike weighed 134, and Al Deleon was the starter. “I couldn’t hold a candle to him.”

There’s happiness in his voice. These are good mat memories.

“I never wrestled at Moorhead State. I wasn’t even a year out of the hospital. It took at least two or three years to heal up.”

Nicely, Mike was included in the team photo of the 1963-64 Moorhead State College NAIA National Champions Team photo.

If he never wrestled because of his painful injuries, he was an ultimate team player.

“I took it on myself and was kind of a manager. I never traveled with the team. I did the books and a lot of things. All the guys wanted me in the picture. ‘Come on, Mike! You can be in the picture!’ I appreciated that.”

He’s a proud oldest brother. His youngest brother, Roman, a 1950 model, also wrestled in the state tournament and wrestled for Bemidji State.

“All I can say about high school is I never got pinned and I had more than a winning record. The only difference was, I didn’t wrestle very smart in the section tournament.”

He comes from a family of seven girls and four boys.

“When I was in the hospital, my mother came and visited me twice during the half-year I was there. She had all these kids at home. But she wouldn’t miss a wrestling match after I got out of the hospital in Mankato.

“At Moorhead State, she’d drive over from Greenbush, sometimes a day early, to make sure she was here for the match.”

His mother’s name was Emelia, and his dad’s was Alex.

“My mother was killed in a car accident. I was 27 but my youngest sister was only 17. Mother was born in 1914 and was on her way to school but there was smoke and the visibility was poor. She pulled over to the side of the road south and west of Greenbush. She was hit by a gravel truck from behind and killed instantly.”

Emelia was just 56.

FINAL COMMENTS

Gabriel Monroe is now 78.

“That’s my name right now.”

That elicits some laughter when asked how he picked his new first name and surname more than three decades ago.

“I just wanted a shorter name,” said the former Lawrence Gonshorowski, adding that somebody said there were Gabriel shocks and Monroe shocks.

“And I got a free oil change there once.”

Did you get many matches at Moorhead State?

“Probably at least six of them. That was in the 1963-64 season. All these guys were really good. I was kind of shocked that I even made the team.”

He was at Moorhead State for just one year.

“Then I went into the Army.”

How Polish are you?

“I’ve always considered myself 100 percent Polish. My mother’s maiden name was Sikorski, and my dad’s was Gonshorowski.

How did your three brothers get so tough? You’re not big guys.

“I don’t know. Our dad was pretty tough in his day, and they had all kinds of stories about my mother’s dad. He’d carry hundred pound sacks of flour and was built like a bull. We never knew him that way. We only knew him when he was old.”

Mr. Gabe Monroe recalled when he and his two older brothers were growing up on the farm, pitching manure and hay and picking rocks. “We kind of scrapped with each other, the three of us.”

The thing is, Raphael would have made a good bouncer. He’s fearless.

Could you handle yourself a little with Raph?

“Oh gosh no. He was way above me. We did an exhibition match once and he cleaned my clock. It was no match at all.”

The three brothers have contrasts. Mike and Gabriel are more laid back.

“Raphael had a different disposition. He was just a go-getter. He’s more like my mom’s side, the Sikorski side. He’s got more of Grampa Sikorski – the build and everything about him. My dad, on the Gonshorowski side, was more mellow.”

It had been his mother’s intention to name him Gabriel.

“One cousin actually shot the other cousin, and the cousin that got shot and killed was Lawrence. So, our great uncle asked my mother if she would please name her third son Lawrence. Mom then switched. She was going to name me Gabriel.”

He’s got the name back.

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