Every community needs a Jerry Fornshell.
That's why Pillager is mourning the loss of the 51-year-old, who lost his battle with cancer Dec. 4.
Fornshell was "Mr. Pillager" if there ever was one. He was a tireless volunteer in the school system as well as in the community and coached various Huskies athletic teams.
If you ever bought gas, stopped at the convenience store or attended an event in Pillager you probably bumped into Jerry.
He owned and operated Fornshell Bus Service and two convenience stores. He drove bus to countless Huskies events and worked on the athletic fields.
He was a former member of the Pillager Fire Department and the First Responders.
Recently, he was named Pillager Citizen of the Year.
Jerry also loved to plow snow and play softball.
His absence will leave a void in the school system. He coached junior high football and later was an assistant varsity coach. He was an assistant basketball coach, then assumed the head coaching reins for one season when head coach Jim Bentson was deployed for the first time. Jerry also was head baseball coach, then volunteered as an assistant after stepping down.
When asked to describe what kind of person Fornshell was, Pillager activities director Dan Boushee said, "Where do you start and where do you end with how much he contributed to Pillager athletics and to the community?
"It's hard to say how much he's done because he's done so much," Boushee added. "He's done a lot of volunteer coaching, even with the young kids, at all levels. What he has done for Pillager athletics has been tremendous."
Boushee said much of the Huskies' success in the early 2000s, making three state football trips and one state basketball trip, can be attributed to Fornshell's coaching of those groups in the lower grades.
"Jerry touched the lives of so many in so many different ways," Boushee said.
When Bentson arrived in Pillager in the late 1990s he said Fornshell, who spent his entire life in Pillager, was a "father figure."
"If you look at someone who literally took me under his wing, wow," Bentson said from Mississippi, where he is currently deployed a second time. "You could sense Jerry was the guy you wanted to associate with in the community, someone who would do the right things and get the right things done."
Bentson said when he was the Huskies' basketball coach many people continued to think Fornshell was the head coach.
"Eighty percent of the time the officials would walk up to Jerry," he said.
Bentson appreciated the fact Fornshell stayed with the program after his sons graduated. Eric played three sports. Dusty was student manager and goodwill ambassador.
"Most coaches come through with their sons," Bentson said. "Jerry was more than that. He stayed with the basketball program after Eric. That's what I enjoyed. There was stability there.
"I appreciated Jerry being that committed and being the figure he was. When I was deployed in '03 there was no real transition. Sure, we do things differently, and we're two different personalities, but the baseline was the same. There was a personnel change, but in the overall program there was not."
The Huskies will retire the No. 40 that Fornshell wore as a Huskies basketball player. They paid tribute to him before Tuesday's game.
"I talked about how Jerry not only impacted our community and school but also the surrounding community," Boushee said. "Jerry's name is synonymous with Pillager.
"It's a great loss."
Personally, I've known Jerry for more than 20 years. My favorite memory of him is from the 2001-02 boys' basketball season.
I rode the bus, driven by Jerry, with the basketball team to its section championship game at Park Rapids against Nevis. The Huskies won the first section basketball championship in school history that night.
Upon returning to Pillager about midnight, Jerry wound the bus through town, accompanied by police and fire department escorts.
There couldn't have been a prouder Pillager person that night than Jerry. The Huskies had experienced little basketball success before that season.
That section title, and subsequent state trip, was as much a reward for Jerry as it was for Pillager.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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