July 15, 2007
Sertich puts aging on ice
By Kevin Pates
Don’t phone Mark Sertich between 10:30 p.m.
and midnight because you’ll get a busy signal. He’s
on his computer, on the Internet, checking the latest news and sending
That’s his routine before bed.
Then he’s up at 6 a.m.
Four times a week during the winter, and twice
a week during the summer, he’s on the ice at 8 a.m. at Mars
Lakeview Arena with the Duluth firefighters hockey team. They’re
Sertich is 85. He’ll turn 86 on Wednesday
while competing in the 31st Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament
in Santa Rosa, Calif. He’s the oldest player in the tournament.
“He’s a modern marvel,’’
says Steve Sertich, 54, one of Mark’s four sons.
“He’s going to be one tough act to
follow,’’ said Mark Sertich Jr., 60, another son.
Indeed. The Mark and Virginia Sertich clan, which
includes seven children, 18 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren
and three great-great-grandchildren, is led by a longevity icon.
Although such records aren’t kept, it’s
possible Sertich is the oldest American playing competitive hockey.
He also skates in the NorthShore Inline Marathon each September
and ran Grandma’s Marathon five times in the early 1980s starting
at age 59.
Youth hockey coach
Mark Amil Sertich, one of four children of Yugoslavian
immigrants Marco and Josephine Sertich, was born July 18, 1921,
four months after his parents arrived in America. The family moved
into a home off of 40th Avenue West in 1927, and Mark Sertich has
remained there for all but a few years of his life.
Although he received his first pair of skates
by placing second in a coffee company contest as a youngster, there
was no varsity hockey at Duluth Denfeld before he graduated in 1939.
He married in 1942, the same year he joined the U.S. Army and served
as a high-speed radio operator with the 11th Armored Division during
the Battle of the Bulge under Gen. George S. Patton.
Out of the Army in 1945, he returned home and
resumed his job at the Peavey Co. (now ConAgra) in the Board of
Trade building, retiring in 1983 as office manager after 42 years
“I’d take the bus to work most days,
but my back got so sore from sitting, I started to walk the four
miles home,’’ Sertich says of his fitness beginnings.
Walking led to running (he started in loafers
before finding suitable footwear), which allowed him to keep up
with his children. Sertich was active as a coach and organizer in
youth hockey and helped start a program at Merritt Park, two blocks
His own playing days as an offensive centerman
began in the 1980s when he approached the Duluth firefighters’
team. He’s been with the group for more than 20 years and
was granted a lifetime membership, allowing him to skip a $5 fee
for the 90-minute games. The oldest firefighter on the team is 60.
“His energy is incredible. His attitude
is incredible. He’s been an inspiration to all of us,’’
says Dane Youngblom, 51, who’s been in charge of the firefighter
hockey program for more than 15 years. “Mark is a slight guy,
but he wears all the hockey gear and skates and shoots very well.
He can easily hit the top shelf of the net. He can easily skate
While the games are no-check, there is contact.
Sertich has broken his left shoulder and left hand, cracked his
sternum and suffered concussions. The biceps in both arms have been
torn and arthritis is creeping into some fingers.
Yet the 5-foot-8 Sertich is sturdy. He lifts weights,
does pushups, mows the lawn, shovels the walk (no snowblower for
this guy) and, while he no longer runs, he inline skates regularly
on the Munger Trail.
A full head of hair with almost no graying would
be enough to distinguish Sertich from most people in their 80s,
but a handlebar mustache is his real trademark. He’s had it
the past 35 years, much in the likeness of his father.
“Wherever you go in town, everyone knows
him,’’ said son Tim Sertich, 48, of Duluth, a wholesale
liquor and wine sales representative. “When someone knows
my name they usually ask, ‘Is your dad the hockey player with
the handlebar mustache?’
“When you’re active, you believe you’re
going to be healthy. He’s one of those special people and
we’re so darn proud of him.’’
The folks at the Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey
Tournament certainly know him. Sertich (no relation to former Minnesota
Duluth coach Mike Sertich) has missed just one tournament since
playing in the event for the first time in 1983. He’ll play
this week on a team captained by Ben Baker of Portland, Ore., one
of four teams in the 70-and-older division. There is no 80-and-older
Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz, a
St. Paul native, started the tournament for those 40 and older.
Sertich skated on the same line with Schulz for 12 years and, at
one point, was presented a cartoon strip by Schulz with Snoopy wearing
glasses and a handlebar mustache. Schulz died in 2000 at age 77.
“He had a great sense of humor and was one
heck of a guy,’’ Sertich said of Schulz in a 2005 story
in Minnesota Moments magazine. “My main job was to set him
up and see if he could score a few goals.’’
Tom Lindahl of New Hope, Minn., has been organizing
no-check games the past 37 years and has a 65-and-older team in
the Snoopy’s tournament. Lindahl, 72, said the oldest active
hockey player in the Twin Cities is Wendell Anderson, 74, a former
U.S. Olympian and Minnesota’s governor from 1971-76.
And then there’s Sertich.
“There are very few in the state over the
age of 70 who are playing, and I don’t think there’s
anyone over 80, except for Mark,’’ Lindahl said. “He
has a great stride and great hands, he doesn’t miss a shift
and he’s a gentleman’s gentleman.’’
It’s believed that only one hockey player
in the United States has more seniority — John Burnosky of
Clinton Township, Mich. He’s 96 and has a certificate from
the Guinness Book of World Records bestowing the title of World’s
Most Durable Hockey Player.
The native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, came to the
Detroit area at age 18 to try out with the Detroit Red Wings and
stayed, said Buddy Williams of Walled Lake, Mich. Williams, 60,
plays with Burnosky on a team sponsored by Bruno’s Dive Shop,
owned by Burnosky’s son, Jerry.
In his most recent action, John Burnosky played
in a tournament in April in Flint, Mich. He typically takes the
faceoff at the start of each period and then spends about 20 seconds
on the ice, Williams said.
“He still has the enthusiasm and mental
capacity to know what to do when he’s out there,’’
Williams said of Burnosky, who is 5-4 and 125 pounds. “Because
of his age, we go out of our way to watch out for him and make sure
the game is enjoyable for him.’’
The family’s best
Who’s the best hockey player in the Sertich
Mark Sertich says the distinction goes to grandson
Andy Sertich, who was named best defenseman and rookie of the year
by the Utah Grizzlies of the East Coast Hockey League in 2007. Andy’s
dad, Steve, of Grand Rapids, played for St. Scholastica and later
coached the Saints.
All four Sertich sons played high school hockey
at Denfeld or Duluth Cathedral (now Duluth Marshall).
Tim Sertich’s daughter, Abby, will be a
senior winger with Duluth’s cooperative high school girls
team in 2007-08.
But it all started with a late-blooming skater,
now an octogenarian.
“I don’t know if it’s worth
trying to keep up with now,’’ said son Mick Sertich,
58, of Alborn, a terminal manager for Peavey Grain Co. in Superior.
“Most of us have half our hair missing and dad’s just
very determined to keep working out. He doesn’t ask for much
help. He’s very self-sufficient.’’
The family life span record is 88, set by Mark
Sertich’s late sister, Mary. Another sister, Katherine Gasman
of Duluth, is 83. Their mother lived to age 86.
“His children always came first when we
were growing up. He stood in a lot of snowbanks watching us play,’’
said Mark Sertich Jr., co-owner of a commercial refrigeration company
in Grand Forks, N.D. “I’ve got a picture on the wall
of him finishing his first Grandma’s Marathon in 1981. That
was just remarkable, and he’s continued to take such good
care of himself.’’
Mark Sertich has been on his own the past 3½
years since losing his wife after 61 years of marriage. He has stayed
in their four-bedroom house, keeping it particularly tidy, and recently
has painted the living room walls. He has most meals at home, with
chicken breasts, ice cream, coffee and blueberries among his favorite
foods. He weighs about 155 pounds, 10 less than when he left the
The only medication he takes, in addition to vitamin
supplements, is a pill for a thyroid condition. He hasn’t
had a hospital stay since the 1950s after a collision during a softball
“When he was in his mid-50s, dad had a little
bit of a paunch and smoked an occasional cigar. Now he has, like,
7 percent body fat. People who don’t know him can’t
fathom it,’’ said Steve Sertich, director of operations
for Lake County Power in Grand Rapids.
Aging is taking its time with Mark Sertich.
On Friday with the firefighters, in his final
tuneup for the three-game Snoopy’s tournament, the octogenarian
scored five goals.