If they made a documentary film on the Dolan family impact on St. Thomas athletics, it would be one part “Hoosiers,” a second part “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and a third part “O, Brother, Here Art Thou.” Dozens of Dolans have attended St. Thomas. About 20 whose ancestry is traced to the southwest Minnesota town of Milroy have played Tommie varsity sports in the last 90 years.
As many as 14 Dolans competed in baseball, as far back as 1913, when William J. Dolan came to campus for St. Thomas’ one-year degree program in Bookkeeping and Shorthand and showed off his pitching skills for the Tommies. His brother James, a catcher, followed two years later. Their sons, nephews, grandsons and cousins also have competed in football, track and field, soccer, golf, hockey and tennis as well as club and intramural sports.
The Dolan legacy at St. Thomas and beyond includes pro baseball players, Athletic Hall of Famers, Tommy Award recipients, state amateur baseball champions, an NCAA decathlon champion, an alumni Humanitarian Award recipient, an FBI agent, a police officer, academic all-conference honorees, educators and coaches from the youth leagues to the Ivy League, and even a published author. Three are in the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame – John ’57, Bobby ’55 and Steve ’92.
Two cousins won the Mr. Tommy Award: Jack in 1951, and Doc in 1957. Despite a distance runner’s build, Doc starred in baseball and football. Bobby ’55, a speedy shortstop, played one season of Tommie baseball in 1950 before signing a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played on three Class AAA teams before retiring from baseball in 1960.
Steve won the NCAA Division III decathlon championship in track and field as a senior in 1992 and has an impressive r?sum? as a college track and field coach in New Jersey.
During the late 1940s and 1950s, it was common to see three or more Dolan brothers or cousins playing on the same Tommie baseball team, with still more Dolans on campus competing for St. Thomas Academy high school squads.
“I think there were 14 Dolans who played baseball at St. Thomas – that’s unbelievable,” said baseball coach Dennis Denning. “I don’t think there are more than five members of any other family. I played with Denny and Joe here in the 1960s.”
The 1967 MIAC champion St. Thomas baseball team had one-fourth of its roster, not from Minneapolis but from Milroy, a humble farming town of 268 residents. The Milroy four – cousins Joe Dolan and Mike Dolan, Ken Zwach and Darrell DeRuyck – were often on the field together on a Tommie team that placed second in the NAIA Regionals in Dubuque, Iowa.
Patrick and Anna Gallagher Dolan left Ireland for America in 1846 and later settled in the rich southwest farmland of Redwood County. Their son Pat, a farmer, and his wife Maggie, a midwife, had seven sons (William, James, Mark a.k.a. “Shanty,” John, Francis, Leo and Walter) and one daughter, Nora. They were born near the turn of the century in Milroy.
William and James were the first Dolans to come to St. Thomas, and most of the others sent children and grandchildren here to study.
Leo played pro baseball with Aberdeen of the Northern League. His son, Pat ’59, was a baseball standout and played with cousins Doc and Steve on the 1957 baseball squad. Pat was named Marine Athlete of the Year in his military career. Family legend says Pat, who briefly played pro baseball in Springfield, Ill., once got two hits off Yankees star Bob Turley. John had 13 children, including St. Thomas standouts Jack (the 1951 Tommy Award winner) and Mark Spike ’51, who played football one season before he was wounded in the Korean War.
Jack was honored as the 2003 St. Thomas Humanitarian of the Year for his volunteer work and leadership of Total LifeCare Centers, a St. Paul-based nonprofit organization that assists people facing unplanned pregnancies. After graduation and military service, Jack returned to his home area and was a teacher and coach at Springfield and Marshall schools. He later worked in health insurance sales with Old Northwest Co.
Francis had three sons come to St. Thomas – Dan ’51, a star pitcher on the Tommies’ 1951 MIAC title team and a Cigar Bowl reserve in football; J.T. (Doc) ’57, a football-baseball standout and 1957 Tommy Award winner, and F.J. (Steve) ’57, who also competed in baseball and football. In fact, Steve and Doc played left and right halfback in two games in 1956 on the Tommies’ last unbeaten team.
After injuries sidelined top two quarterbacks for the 1954 Tommie team, Doc literally was recruited out of the classroom. After three days of practice, he played most of the game in a 19-6 win over the Auggies. As a senior, he had a memorable 50-yard scoring run in a win over Macalester that helped the Tommies post their lone unbeaten football season in the last 60 years. He also starred in baseball.
The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame includes John and Shanty for their playing and coaching accomplishments.
They were joined by Patrick Dolan ’75, a 2003 inductee. Patrick, who is John’s grandson, was one of four brothers who played for the Tommies from 1962 to 1978, following Denny ’65 and Joe ’67 and preceding Bill ’78. A cousin, Mike ’70 also was on the team in that era. The St. Thomas Dolans and their relatives literally put Milroy on the map with their town ball success, especially in a golden era from 1945 to 1955.
This September marks the 50th anniversary of one of Milroy’s proudest days, as its local nine won the 1954 Minnesota state Class B amateur championship with three Dolans – Don, Mark Spike and Joe – in its starting lineup. The 1947-1950 Milroy teams all made it to the state Class A tournament with a lineup that often had six Dolans, including an all-brother infield of Jack (1B), Louis (2B), Joe (3B), Mark (SS), along with Don (OF) and cousin Dan (P). (Hutchinson natives Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek are researching a book on the glory years of Minnesota amateur baseball (1945-60), and their Web site ranked that 1954 Milroy team the best small-town team of the era.)
Amateur baseball was big stuff in Minnesota in those post-World War II decades that preceded the arrival of the Twins and Vikings franchises. “It was especially big in southern and western Minnesota,” explained Steve Dolan ’57. “There were few lakes in that part of the state, so you didn’t go fishing or boating on Sundays. You played or watched baseball. I remember going to a game in Marshall in 1947 where there were 4,000 people on hand.”
Joe Dolan ’67, who retired July 1 after a distinguished coaching career and 12 years as the athletic director of the Bloomington schools, credits his grandfather, John, for spreading the baseball fever in the family. “Most kids where we grew up worked on farms, and some didn’t get time off to play,” Joe explained. “In our family, we worked hard on the farm, too, but we always had time for baseball.”
Steve Dolan ’92 practically apologizes for starring in track and field instead of baseball at St. Thomas like so many of his relatives. Dolan’s father, Dennis, played one season of college baseball at St. John’s and later attended Marquette before joining the Peace Corps and graduating from St. Thomas.
“I broke the mold a little bit,” Steve said. “I played a lot of baseball as a kid. I went out for track and field because I had success in junior high. If I didn’t like track I was going to play baseball.” Strong family connections helped him end up at St. Thomas. “I knew all about the Milroy Dolans,” Steve said. “That’s a huge deal in our family history. We took a few trips to Milroy when I was younger and I watched the town team play. I think once there were seven Dolans on the field. I also knew of Father Leo Dolan of St. Paul (a longtime college staffer), and my dad’s sister Irene married (1944 football All-American) Ted Molitor, who’s in the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame.”
Steve’s younger sisters, Susie ’94 and Katie ’01, were soccer letter winners; Katie scored 36 career points.
Steve excelled in many track events, and his versatility led him to the 10-event decathlon at St. Thomas. As a junior in 1991, he was NCAA runner-up, and he came back to win the event as a senior. Inducted into the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame, he was a 13-time All-MIAC honoree and twice was team MVP.
Steve, who earned a master’s degree in athletic administration at the College of New Jersey, recently joined the coaching staff at Division I Princeton University of the Ivy League as assistant coach in men’s cross country and track. For the last 12 years, he was head coach of cross-country and track and field for men and women at Division III’s College of New Jersey. For the last seven years, Dolan’s teams swept all six team championships in men’s and women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. Dolan has been an NCAA Atlantic Region Coach of the Year 11 times.
The philosophy first expressed on the Dolan family farms in Milroy 60 years ago still rings true: work hard, but make the time to play.