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Bert Burr: A life well-lived

Former coach accomplished a lot in his life


Just about everyone who ever met Bert Burr has a story to tell—he was certainly a memorable figure over his 55 years in St. Helens.

Bert passed away a week or so ago at 88 years of age. The St. Helens Elks Lodge, where he was a Past Exalted Ruler and frequent visitor, was at capacity for services Sunday. It was filled with people whose lives he had touched in one way or another.

Bert was one of the first people I met when coming to St. Helens nearly 40 years ago. He had a great sense of humor, a good memory, and many a story to tell.by: SELF-PORTRAIT - Sports Editor John Brewington

He was the baseball coach for many years—about 22 if my math is any good. I recall one very rainy season he let us put him in a wheelbarrow and squirt water on him to show just how wet the season was.

He always used to give me a hard time about something I wrote the year after he retired from coaching. I think it was around 1979. I no longer recall exactly what I said and the story changed over the years, but I’d said something to the effect that the new coach, Tom Niebergall, had made the team better. Bert read that as a criticism and he reminded me of it many times over the years. It became something of a standing joke. Of course, Niebergall would take the team to the state championship. I don’t think Bert was all that offended, but he did like to give you a little elbow nudge in the ribs once in awhile.

I played in the weekly poker game with him for many years. He was a good card player and I think he really enjoyed the competition.

Another old friend, Gene Strehlou, called from Arizona last week asking what I had heard about Bert. Strehlou mentioned that when he came to St. Helens in 1959 Bert had already been here two years. Burr, Strehlou, Herb Eisenschmidt, and Andy Knudsen were the only coaches for all the sports. I’ll probably get this wrong but Bert was the coach for baseball and backs coach in football. Knudsen was the head football coach, and an assistant in basketball. Strehlou had basketball and track, coached the line in football and later on cross country. Eisenschmidt was the swimming and wrestling coach. He was also the trainer for most sports, dealing with injuries. Not as many coaches were needed because there were no girls sports, and there was no soccer.

His wife Tesse is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and she was out front greeting people, and spoke during the service Sunday. That’s a really hard thing to do.

Bert had many things he liked to do. I recall him playing on the Standard Dairy men’s fastpitch softball team back in its heyday in St. Helens. The likes of Pete Peters, Chuck Whittick, and Dick Busch anchored that team. Bert was a Pac-8 basketball official, and his wife said he just missed the age cutoff by a year for becoming an NBA official.

He served in the Navy, went to Linfield College and was a longtime supporter of their programs. He loved to fish, and he loved to be around sports folks, and the people at the Elks Lodge. He asked that memorial contributions go to the baseball program (through the Sports Boosters) or to the Elks scholarship program.

It would be remiss to not mention that he was the announcer at St. Helens High home football games for many, many years. He was pretty good at it, but occasionally he forgot to turn the microphone off. He could make the officials on the field wince, and the people in the stands laugh.

Officials are sometimes more critical of their brethren than fans are—just for different reasons. They are usually quick to defend them as well.

Like many his age, Bert came from humble beginnings. Like many others, he also served in the Navy during World War II. He came out unscathed and used the G.I. Bill to attend college and build a better life for himself. He and his wife raised four children.

He worked hard and earned everything he had. He was a good parent, a good teacher, and good coach, and most of all a good man.

I think it is obvious, his was a life well-lived.

It’s a little late, but maybe this will make up for something I wrote 30 some years ago.