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FDSH Hall of Famer Brainerd passes away

Dodger great was a two-time wrestling champion

Messenger file photo Dee Brainerd won state titles for the Fort Dodge wrestling team in 1955 and ‘56.

During his illustrious wrestling career, Dee Brainerd set a championship standard every where he went.

Brainerd, a two-time state champion at Fort Dodge Senior High and a Dodger Athletic Hall of Famer, passed away at the age of 81 on Tuesday morning.

The former FDSH standout was an early graduate in FDSH’s Class of 1957, meaning he didn’t get a shot at becoming the school’s first three-time state champion.

Current Fort Dodge wrestling coach Bobby Thompson, a staunch advocate of preserving Dodger wrestling history, remembers Brainerd’s impact.

“He was great wrestler with two state titles,” Thompson said. “He epitomized what we try to preach about being a family. He always loved Dodger wrestling, and returned to watch the younger generation of kids.”

Dennie Friederichs, a teammate of Brainerd’s at FDSH and a state runner-up in 1955, remembers being in the wrestling room with Brainerd.

“Back then when you were in ninth grade, we were allowed to come up and wrestle with the high school (junior high went through ninth grade),” Friederichs said. “I started as a ninth-grader and didn’t have much experience. He was one of the first kids I got a hold of.

“He was always a little bigger than me. I wrestled at 95 and 103; he was at 112 and 120. We were pretty good friends, and I just remember he always seemed to wrestle his best when he got to the state tournament.”

While competing for the Dodgers, Brainerd won the 112-pound championship in 1955 and the 120-pound crown in 1956. He was inducted into Fort Dodge Senior High’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.

Brainerd — along with Frank Gargano, Willis Kuhn, Anthony Jensen, Mark Rial, Chase Holmgaard, Sam Cook, Triston Lara, Brody Teske and Drake Ayala — are FDSH’s two-time state title holders.

After graduating from FDSH, Brainerd wrestled at the University of Iowa for two seasons before heading to South Dakota State to compete. Brainerd became the Jackrabbits’ first-ever national champion. He earned the 130-pound title in 1963.

Brainerd was inducted into the South Dakota State Hall of Fame in 1990.

After graduating, he moved to Miller, South Dakota with his wife Georgia (Halligan) and their daughters, Mary and Jean. While in Miller, his sons — Mike and Pat — were born.

After coaching stints in South Dakota and Minnesota, the Brainerd family moved back to Iowa, where Brainerd became the wrestling coach at Carroll Kuemper. In 1969, the Brainerds moved to Estherville. Dee was a coach and Alegbra teacher until 1984.

“Over the years I would run into him once and a while,” Friederichs said. “He was a good coach at Estherville. I remember him being an avid fisherman, and loving the outdoors.”

After retirement, Brainerd returned to the Dodger gym often.

Don Miller, the 1985 Fort Dodge Senior High state championship coach and former school athletic director, remembers chatting with Brainerd at Dodger events.

“I got to know him and would talk with him when he would return for the Fort Dodge wrestling invitational,” Miller said. “He was highly successful and an excellent wrestler.

“He was an all around great guy and loved the sport of wrestling. Always a big Dodger fan.”

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