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Christensen was devoted to football and family

Gwynn Christensen is shown in his ever-present Wisconsin Badger attire in 2012, showing a photo of himself when he served in World War II. News file photo

Gwynn Christensen achieved a great many things in his 92 years.

He started as high school standout athlete, then a World War II soldier. That was followed by being a college football starter, high school coach and administrator, college coach, businessman, Shriner and Mason, to name a few.

Christensen moved to New Richmond in 1970. He remained here until he died on Nov. 5 at the American Heritage Care Center in Hammond.

Football was a huge part of Christensen's life. He was a starting running back for the University of Wisconsin Badgers from 1947 to 1949. He played in the first Senior Bowl in 1950.

Christensen served as the head football coach at UW-River Falls from 1962 through 1969. He then hired his successor, Mike Farley, who was one of the most successful coaches in Falcon history.

Christensen had seen a life's worth of action by the time he'd completed college. He was a standout athlete at Lake Mills High School, graduating in 1943. He then enlisted in the United States Navy Air Corps, serving during World War II from 1943 to 1945. He was stationed in the South Pacific and flew from the carrier USS Santee in a Grumman Avenger Torpedo Bomber. He served as an aviation radioman third class. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.

Christensen enrolled at UW-Madison upon his discharge. Like now, the Badgers had a tradition of great running backs. In his first three seasons, Christensen was a backup to Clarence Self, Wally Dreyer and Don Kindt, who all went on to NFL careers.

As a senior, Gwynn finally got his chance to start, stepping in at right halfback. The Badgers came within one game of qualifying for the Rose Bowl. In their season finale, they were knocked off by Minnesota, preventing the Badgers from reaching the Rose Bowl. One of the players for Minnesota was Bud Grant, who would eventually become head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Six years ago, Gwynn traveled to the Minnesota Vikings headquarters, where he had arranged a meeting with Grant. It was a chance for two lifelong football men to share some memories.

Bob Petruska was the Badgers' quarterback in 1949. He also hailed from Lake Mills, four years younger than Gwynn.

"He was my idol," Petruska said in a 2004 interview. "He was all heart. He was very uplifting. He always had the respect of his peers."

After that season, Christensen was selected for the inaugural Senior Bowl game. He played in the game with such football legends as Doak Walker, Choo Choo Justice and Minnesota's Clayton Tonnemaker. The North lost the game, 16-10.

Christensen returned to Lake Mills during his college summers. In the summer of 1949, he began spending a great deal of time at the Rexall Drug Store. That's because Pearl Hein was working behind the counter. They began dating and after Gwynn graduated in 1950, they were married.

That led into a nomadic coaching career for Christensen. His first job was in Mondovi, where he was paid $3,300 to teach and coach. He then moved to Watertown, Janesville and Muskego. In 1959, he was hired as football coach at Wayne State University in Nebraska.

Christensen longed to be back in Wisconsin, leading to him taking the coaching job at UW-River Falls in 1962. While at River Falls, he also did a great deal of basketball officiating, often working with former Falcon athletic director Don Page.

Gwynn left the coaching ranks to work at WIXK radio in New Richmond. After two years he left to work at Bernard's Northtown. Then he found a home was working as an insurance agent for Dowd-Reliance. He worked at their office in Hammond until he retired in 2002.

Gwynn remained incredibly devoted to the Badgers. Always a snappy dresser, he was often seen in red and white outfits for his Badgers. He and Pearl often made trips back to Madison for Badger games and Gwynn traveled to Pasadena to see the Badgers play in the Rose Bowl four times.

He leaves behind his wife of 67 years, Pearl, two daughters, five grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

A visitation for Gwynn will be held on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at the United Methodist Church in New Richmond. A Masonic service will follow at 11:30 a.m., with a funeral service at noon. Military honors will be performed by American Legion Post #80 of New Richmond.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for more than 30 years.

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