Tessier, a Duluth sports icon, had a knack for overcoming adversityHundreds turned out Friday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church to pay their respects to one of the best athletes to come out of Duluth. Larry Tessier died Tuesday at the age of 84.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Whenever tragedy entered Larry Tessier’s life, he always bounced right back and overcame the adversity.
When arm troubles shelved him with the Detroit Tigers’ minor league farm system in the early 1950s, he came back and made the Duluth Dukes baseball team the next year.
After a foot injury suffered during a railroad accident ended his baseball career, he became a successful switchman with Burlington Northern Railroad for 37 years.
And after a tragic car accident claimed the life of daughter Diane, he helped keep her memory alive with a popular memorial softball tournament that ran for 35 years.
Hundreds turned out Friday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church to pay their respects to one of the best athletes to come out of Duluth. Tessier died Tuesday at the age of 84 at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital Hospice.
“He was a role model for life, not just sports,” said Ken Sunnarborg, a former teammate of Tessier’s on the 1947 Denfeld team that won the school’s only state basketball championship. Tessier is the third starting member of that team to die in the last calendar year, after Rudy Monson and Paul Nace.
Tessier was an All-State football and baseball player and excelled in track and field as well. He also was a Golden Gloves boxing champion who was inducted into Denfeld’s hall of fame in 1966.
“He was an exceptional athlete; he had power, he had speed and versatility,” Sunnarborg said. “He was a coach’s dream. As far as a teammate, he was a great person to play with because he always was for the team. He was more team-oriented than anyone else I ever knew. He was a gift as far as sports are concerned.”
Tessier signed with the Tigers after graduating from high school in 1947, but by June 1953 his career was over after the railroad accident.
He married Connie Erickson, his high school sweetheart, in 1950 and the couple had five children and nine grandchildren in 61 years of marriage.
“If you saw Larry, you’d see Connie or if you’d see Connie, you’d see Larry,” Sunnarborg said. “They were true teammates, those two.”
Tessier coached his son, Larry Jr., in Little League and daughters in softball. Diane was killed along with Chris Waltman in a car accident in 1973. The Tessier-Waltman tournament was organized later that year and run through 2007.
“He had triumph and tragedy in his life,” Sunnarborg said. “More important than his athletic prowess, what I remember most about him was the way that he lived his life. He was truly a family man and loyal to friends. All the time I’ve known Larry, I never heard him dismiss or criticize anybody. He was always giving of himself, not only to his family that he dearly loved, but to friends, too.”
The Tessiers operated the Enger Park Golf Course concession stand from 1965 to 1971, and Larry was a co-founder and member of the Zenith City Golf Club at Enger. Additionally, he was a member of Pugs Club, the Lake Avenue Loafers Club and the French Club and enjoyed playing golf and cribbage with his friends.
“I’ve never heard anybody criticize Larry and I never heard Larry criticize anybody else,” Sunnarborg said. “How many people in this world can you say that about?”