Legendary Minnesota broadcaster dies
For more than four decades, one man's voice and presence could create quite a stir in the quiet towns of Minnesota lakes country.
His name was Odis LeGrand - better known as Oats. His claim to fame was broadcasting high school athletic events from countless wooden bleachers, from the top of his car, from a wooden press box that once toppled during a wind storm and even once from a tree.
"Oh, I see Mrs. Johnson is here tonight," Oats would open a broadcast with his own, unique personal touch.
"He was so open," Oats would quip about a receiver in football. "He could have stopped for a hamburger."
"It's third down and a Greyhound bus trip," Oats often said, referring to the long yardage a football team needed to pick up a first down.
From 1952, when he started broadcasting for $2.50 a game until 1998, Oats LeGrand delighted listeners with more than 4,000 broadcasts.
Tuesday, after a two-year battle with Alzheimer's, LeGrand died at the age of 95.
"There is nobody like Oats ... he is one of a kind," said Craig Olson, who followed in his uncle's footsteps, broadcasting sporting events in the Fergus Falls area.
Oats' distinctive voice (what he once described as a cross between Dizzy Dean and Harry Caray) became so legendary that Sports Illustrated magazine recognized him as the "Voice of Small-Town America" in 1985.
The SI article said 7 out of every 10 people knew Oats and the rest recognized his gruff voice. He called 'em like he saw 'em - keeping the KJJK-Radio studio engineers on their toes.
There was a football game in which Oats described a halfback as faking a defender out of his jock strap. Some listeners complained and station management ordered Oats not to use that term again.
During the next game, the situation repeated itself. According to Olson, that's when Oats said: "He faked him right out of the piece of equipment that I can't refer to on the air anymore."
You wouldn't have known it watching him hobble around on his artificial knees, but Oats was a standout athlete in his day. After growing up in Moorhead, he played semi-professional baseball for the Crookston Pirates.
After that, he became a physical education teacher and a successful coach. He coached the 1960 Fergus Falls VFW baseball team to a state championship and once coached the high school wrestling team to an undefeated season.
At the age of 80, he was elected to the Fergus Falls School Board. And during his retirement, he spoke to high school kids about alcohol and drug abuse.
"He supported kids in so many ways," Olson said. "But his real passion was covering the small town sports and bringing some notoriety to the kids who played the games and the communities they represented."
The funeral for LeGrand will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Church of the Nazarene in Valley City, N.D. - where he spent the last couple of years with his wife, Eunice, and son, Steve.
The burial will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Nidaros Lutheran Church cemetery in Vining, Minn.
You can be sure this small town will be buzzing about Oats LeGrand one more time.
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.