It’s the middle of August and the Michigan football season is upon us, but I need to stop and say a word about a wonderful Michigan man who passed away in June, but only today did I discover the news.
On June 29, Newt Loken passed away in Eugene, Ore. at the age of 92. And, believe me, those were 92 of the best yeas ANYONE ever spent on earth.
Even though he spent his collegiate competitive years at Minnesota, Newt embodied EVERYTHING you’d want out of a Michigan Man – spirit, drive, desire and accomplishment.
From AD Dave Brandon’s blog, he wrote this: “In Michigan athletic lore, certain names are immediately identifiable with the sport. Red Berenson is hockey, Cazzie Russell is basketball, Matt Mann is swimming, Cliff Keen is wrestling, Carol Hutchins is softball and in football, there are Bo, Fritz, Fielding, etc. In men’s gymnastics, it is Newt Loken.”
He earned Big 10 and NCAA titles at Minnesota in a sport long since forgotten – trampoline. But, starting in 1948, Loken became synonymous with Michigan gymnastics, winning 12 Big 10 championships and four NCAA titles (two for gymnastics, two for trampoline). His dual meet record as a coach was 240-71-1 (a .771 winning percentage) and coached 20 individual national champions.
He was the school’s longest tenured coach until his “retirement” in 1983. The word is used loosely because the man was a ball of energy 24/7. When I worked with him (during my time in Sports Information), he seemed to be the guy who was over-caffeinated … but didn’t touch a drop of it. He was simply always … “ON!”
And he loved his sport and forced you, through his sheer will, to love it as well. He literally bounced when he walked into our offices and no matter what he requested, you simply could NOT say no to him. All that I know about gymnastics (which, I admit, is limited but enough to watch the sports semi-informed), I earned from Newt.
Perhaps his most visible moments to Michigan football fans came annually at Homecoming. Newt had been the cheerleading coach for years, back in the day when it was an all-male squad. The tradition of doing backflips off the short brick wall in the north end zone after a Michigan score began with Newt and he would join in the celebration, well into his AARP years, at those Homecoming affairs, with his former squadmates.
Most people probably don’t know that he earned his master’s and doctorate at Michigan and taught kinesiology, again until retiring in 1983. He was a terrific public speaker and author. But it was his energy (and perpetual smile) that most people remember.
According to Brandon, until his family moved him to Eugene a year ago, Loken NEVER missed a home gymnastics meet…for 61 years! And he visited the Wolverines’ gym every Monday after his retirement, visiting with coaches and young protégées.
“He absolutely lived Michigan; his kindness, energy, pep and spirit were amazing,” Brandon added in his blog. “Newt Loken made you feel good. Today, his memory made me smile once more.”
I hope they honor Newt before one of the home football games and have a permanent remembrance connected with one of the U-M facilities. Because men like Newt Loken don’t pass through Ann Arbor all that often.