The People Who Carry Us a Lifetime

Sixty years ago, Luther’s 1963 football team, under head coach Edsel Schweizer, achieved an undefeated season and a conference title. Last October, a dozen members from that legendary team gathered in Decorah from places as far-flung as Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Members from the team of 1963 who attended the reunion include (in alphabetical order): Dick Ashland ’64, Jim Boyce ’64, Ken Belanger ’66, Larry Chellevold ’65, Dick Hemp ’64, Denny Ibbotson ’64, Earl Jensen ’64, John Lavender ’65, Steve Messer ’64, Bob Naslund ’65, Ronald Schultz ’65, and Charles Stern ’65.

Bob Naslund ’65, a 1963 team member and former Luther football and track and field coach, helped organize and host the reunion. It was a time, he says, “to renew that spirit and those friendships and hugs.”

One of the highlights of the weekend was a chance to connect with current players after the 1963 team watched the 2023 team practice. It turns out that it was meaningful for players both past and present.

“It made me practice with a sense of pride, just feeling really happy to know that I’m carrying on something that’s a lot bigger than me,” says Malachi McElroy ’26, a running back from Atlanta.

First-year Keyvaughn Connor, a defensive lineman from Coleyville, Texas, agrees, saying, “They came together to watch what is now the future that they built with this program. When we went to shake their hands, I could see the love they had in their eyes for the culture that we continue.”

Luther athletics in 1963 looked a lot different than the program does now. The 1963 football team played on a field behind the library. Because Preus Gymnasium burned down in 1961, they used Dante’s Cafe, in the basement of the Union, as a locker room. They won the conference title a year before Luther women were able to compete in intercollegiate athletics.

But the relationships they formed, Naslund says, “were as special then as they are today.”

“They helped shape my life in ways that are intangible and helped me grow into an adult. I became a coach because of the experience,” says Earl Jensen ’64 of Greybull, Wyoming. “I wish the current players could have experienced the seasons we had, but even more important are the relationships and life-altering that happens with the team.”

Luther football players from 1963 chat with current players after a practice in October 2023.

James Hutton ’26, a tight end from Dallas, can already sense it: “The people we meet here are the people who will carry us a lifetime. We’ve already started to go through experiences in our personal lives and have been able to rely on each other to keep us strong and persevere through different challenges.”

Noah Millhouse ’26, a quarterback from Jordan, Minnesota, says, “Since I’ve been here the past two years, I’ve just never felt alone.”

“I’ve never felt a brotherhood like this before,” agrees James Bradley ’26, a defensive back from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

“I know that further down the road,” McElroy says, “the love’s still going to be there. These guys will be at my wedding having a good old time.”