August 24, 2011
Final tribute will
be made to former Morgan Park star
By Rick Weegman
One of Paul Nace’s traditions was to have
friends over to his Morgan Park house following high school basketball
and football games.
The spirit of that tradition will continue one
last time tonight when friends and family gather at the Nace residence
to remember the former star athlete, coach and administrator who
passed away Monday at age 82 at St. Luke’s hospital.
“After every game, everybody came over to
my dad’s house and got together,” his son, Jeff, said
Tuesday night. “We’re inviting them all over (tonight)
for one last hurrah.”
Nace was a senior point guard on the 1947 Duluth
Denfeld team that won the single-class state basketball title, sinking
the game-winning shot with 17 seconds remaining to beat favored
Mountain Lake in the semifinals at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
The Two Harbors native later coached boys and girls basketball and
track at Morgan Park High School, including the school’s lone
appearance in the boys basketball state tournament in 1979, served
as athletic director at Morgan Park and coached girls basketball
at Denfeld after Morgan Park closed. He eventually retired in the
“My dad never talked about his accomplishments
at all,” said Jeff Nace, longtime boys basketball coach at
Denfeld. “But down in the basement, in the corner, he has
his state tournament stuff there. One of the things that he was
most proud of was that he played in the state tournament and also
coached in one.”
Ken Sunnarborg, a co-captain of that ’47
team, recalled Nace being the player who made that squad excel.
“Paul was really the leader of that team,”
Sunnarborg said of the All-State selection. “He ran the offense
and everybody looked to Paul to start the move. He was well-versed
in basketball and knew how to use his fellow teammates. He was an
exceptional basketball player.”
Nace perhaps showed his future coaching acumen
before the tournament when he inspired his teammates to victory.
“Paul said, ‘We’re going down
to the state, but we’re not going down to just take a ride.
We’re going down to take it all and bring the trophy home.’”
Sunnarborg recalled. “It was one of the experiences of a lifetime.”
Milan Karich, a senior at Morgan Park, played
against Nace in the 1947 district finals and later became a coaching
rival at Hermantown and eventually his superior as principal at
Morgan Park from 1969-85. The pair also were part of a golfing foursome
at Nemadji Golf Course for at least 25 years.
“Paul was an excellent teacher, coach, athletic
director and a very valuable faculty member,” Karich said.
“I think the world of him, and it was always a pleasure to
be in his company. There was never a dull moment when you were in
Nace was preceded in death by his high school
sweetheart and wife of 59 years, Joyce, a brother, Bill Nace, and
a grandson, Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk, who died fighting
in Iraq in 2008. He is survived by four children, six grandchildren
and nine great-grandchildren.
Visitation is from 10-11
a.m. Thursday, followed by the memorial service at United Protestant
Church in Morgan Park.