Editor’s note: Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations, contributed this guest column to The Scroll.
As I watched “The Claw” take its first rips at the top of the west wall of O’Shaughnessy Hall at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, I wondered what Tom Feely would have thought.
Chunks of Mankato-Kasota Stone and construction debris fell to the ground and inside the third-floor gymnasium where the late Feely played, coached and taught for a half century, from when O’Shaughnessy opened in 1940 to his retirement in 1990.
I can almost hear him now: “Cripes, they’re tearing down my building,” he would have rasped in that unmistakable – and often-imitated – gravelly voice, all the while adjusting his glasses and wearing a sheepish grin.
I had the chance two weeks ago to write about the construction of O’Shaughnessy Hall and its great benefactor I.A. O’Shaughnessy, but I failed to mention any of the giants who roamed its corridors and dominated its basketball floor. People like Steve Fritz ’71, Bob Rosier ’74 and, of course, Feely ’41.
Feely played football, basketball and tennis for the college and was present for the opening of O’Shaughnessy Hall his junior year. He graduated in 1941, served in the Air Force during World War II and became a teacher and coach at St. Thomas Academy, then located on this campus.
He coached the Cadets in basketball from 1946 to 1954, when he became the Tommies’ coach. He held the job for 26 years, winning 417 games and seven MIAC titles. Fritz succeeded Feely as coach in 1980, and the following year Schoenecker Arena opened. Feely stayed around another decade to teach and returned often to Schoenecker to watch the Tommies until his death in 2007.
Schoenecker fell to the wrecking ball last summer to make way for what will be a splendid new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center, which also will have a Schoenecker Arena, and now O’Shaughnessy is going down. The Bolander crew member handling what onlookers called “The Claw” was rather efficient with the machine on Thursday, stripping away stone with one motion and battering holes in the old gym wall with the next.
As I watched O’Shaughnessy succumb, I thought fondly of people like Feely. I concluded that the man I always called “Coach” is smiling as he looks down at the demolition and is acknowledging that progress – while messy and noisy and even painful at times – is always necessary.
May his spirit pass our way again soon.