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A page in time: Hastings native meets his hometown hero after compiling a keepsake

Bob McNamara reviews a scrapbook that Vernon Conzemius put together for him. Conzemius is pictured on the left. Also pictured are Cathy Keller (in the back) and Oralee McNamara (far right). Star Gazette photos by Jane Lightbourn

Sixty years ago, Vernon Conzemius was a 14-year-old Hastings school boy, attending classes and helping on his family farm.

He also had a hero — another Hastings native, Bob McNamara, who was a star player on the University of Minnesota Gopher football team as Conzemius was growing up. For the entire 1954 football season, Conzemius compiled a scrapbook, containing just about every story and photo on McNamara’s season. When the season ended, the scrapbook was put aside with some other books in the garage. Last year, the book finally resurfaced. Conzemius had found the book and decided he had to get it to McNamara, who he had never met. He did know his cousin, Larry McNamara, who lives nearby.

Conzemius has now met his hero and recently gave the keepsake to him.

The fall of 1954

McNamara was playing his senior year on the Gopher football team, which would finish with a 7-2 record. His brother Pinky was on the team, too.

But Conzemius idolized Bob.

“He was from Hastings,” he said. “He was a star.”

He wanted to remember him and that season. Compiling the scrapbook was the way to do it.

“There were articles every day,” said Conzemius. Most came from the St. Paul Pioneer Press and several more from the Hastings Gazette.

“My father used to say to me not to cut up the paper until he had a chance to read it,” said Conzemius. “I used the old flour and water paste to glue them onto the paper.”

Conzemius didn’t attend a Gopher football game when McNamara played — “I didn’t get there,” he said.

But he felt a bond through the scrapbook. He thought about the book every now and again, and knew just maybe someday it would make its way to his hero.

Time to give

Last year, Conzemius found the book among some other items, still packed with memories, and in relatively good condition. He did not know how to reach Bob McNamara, but he could reach Larry McNamara

A meeting at Perkins was arranged last week, and for more than an hour, the McNamara’s — Bob, Larry, Cathy (Larry’s daughter) and Oralee (widow of brother Jim) — and the Conzemiuses — Vernon and Mary — visited. Much of it was about that football season with Bob recalling just about every detail of every game.

When the visit ended, Bob had a new possession to carry home to show his children.

“I think this is fantastic,” he said. “I’m going to keep it now.”

As the two looked over each page, each story, and each photo, more memories were shared from the season with the Gophers.

The University of Minnesota has remained very dear to Bob McNamara throughout his life.

When he graduated from Hastings High School, the U was his first and only choice for college. Brother Pinky would come two years later.

“There was more of a loyalty to your home school,” he said. “It was thought of more highly.

There was another factor at play, too. Shortly after McNamara entered the U, his National Guard unit was activated due to the Korean War.

“When I came back, there was the GI bill and I could go to school,” he said. “At that time, it cost $52 per quarter to attend the U.”

Football was so much a part of it as is evident by the stories and the people, including Bud Grant, another famous U football player and coach Murray Warmath.

“I wanted to be Bud Grant,” said McNamara. “He was my hero and played end.”

So did McNamara for two years and then he was switched to halfback.

Warmath rates high in McNamara’s eyes as well.

“He took the Gophers to Rose Bowls and they won one,” said McNamara. “He was fantastic.”

Initially, Pinky did not play much when Bob was on the field.

“When Pinky asked Warmath when he was going to play, the coach turned to him and said, ‘When Bob graduates,’” recalled McNamara.

He remembered scores and plays, and “being carried off the field” against Iowa. He had scored the winning touchdown in that game.

They are good memories and made even brighter by a Hastings boy’s scrapbook about his hero.

As McNamara and Conzemius left the restaurant, both were smiling. Another bond has been formed.