Archived Story

Cherished teacher passes away

Published 9:20am Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A former Albert Lea High School teacher, counselor and basketball coach is being remembered for his impact both on and off the court.

Orrie Jirele, 73, died Saturday of a heart attack while duck hunting on the northwest corner of Pickerel Lake near the dam.

“Orrie impacted the lives of thousands of our students over the years both on and off the courts,” said Albert Lea Schools Superintendent Mike Funk. “He was well-known throughout the community and school district, and will be sorely missed.”

Orrie Jirele, a former Albert Lea educator, plays the violin Wednesday during an Advent recital at First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune
Orrie Jirele, a former Albert Lea educator, plays the violin in December 2011 during an Advent recital at First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea. –Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Funk said Jirele started working with the district in 1973 and continued regularly until 2002. After his retirement, he continued to help the district in several capacities, including as a substitute teacher and most recently as an instructor for Adult Basic Education.

Jirele was inducted into the Wall of Inspiration at Albert Lea High School in April. His nomination letter said he consistently helped at the school and said he was an inspiration and role model. For 66 years, he also was known for playing the violin.

Rich Wendorff, Albert Lea High School graduate of 1976, said he played basketball for Jirele his junior and senior year.

“He literally transformed Albert Lea basketball,” said Wendorff, who now lives in Lakeville. “Prior to 1973 before he came, Albert Lea did OK, but there was always something missing. He literally turned the program around and impacted so many players.”

Wendorff said Jirele was not only a coach to the players but also a friend who always showed interest in how they were doing.

“He just made you feel good about yourself,” he said.

Greg Sorenson, who also played basketball when Jirele first began coaching, described him as an emotional and passionate man.

“Regardless of the obstacle, nobody or nothing could take his spirit for life, basketball, education, kids or the violin from him,” Sorenson said.

He said Jirele was always doing something for someone else and had a way of captivating a room full of people.

Mike Petersen, part owner of Security Insurance, played with Jirele the last year he coached for the high school in 1987.

“He always wanted the best for us, which at times meant having to push us to make sure we were getting the most out of our potential,” Petersen said.

He said the lessons Jirele taught were beyond basketball.

Hayward resident Duane Scherff, who played basketball under Jirele’s direction in 1984 and 1985, described Jirele as a good mentor who had strong beliefs in church and family.

Jirele’s oldest son, David, married Scherff’s sister.

Jirele’s own love of basketball developed in high school when he was named Most Valuable Player after a Minnesota Catholic School Basketball Tournament in 1958. At the time he was a guard for Austin’s Pacelli High School team.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune article from 2002 stated it was Jirele’s desire to play University Division basketball, now known as Division 1 basketball.

In college, he attended St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., and became the school’s point guard, leading the team to become No. 2 in the country in 1961.

He won three state private school titles in a row coaching at Rochester Lourdes from 1966 to 1968 and coached for five years at East High in Green Bay, Wis., before coming to Albert Lea, the Star Tribune article stated.

He coached basketball for the Tigers for 15 years, and at one point was even mentioned in a Sports Illustrated article, Albert Lean Tom Jones said.

Jones said though he wasn’t good enough to be on the varsity team under Jirele, he came in contact with the man in the mid-1980s when Jirele called him and asked him if he wanted to coach a traveling basketball team. Jones has since been coaching and refereeing for at least 25 years, many times together.

“It all started as a basketball connection and wound up being close friends over the years,” Jones said.

He described Jirele as someone who would do anything asked of him.

Albert Lea High School graduate Jacqueline Shirley said she had Jirele as a substitute teacher in several classes throughout high school.

“He had such a passion for teaching and seemed to truly care about the students he came in contact with,” Shirley said. “He was one of the subs you hoped to have.”

She said he loved the high school and supported it in many sports and activities.

“I will always remember how regardless of the class he was in, he cared about the subject,” Shirley said. “He truly cared about education. He had a kind heart, and the school will be missing a big piece.”

Chris Seedorf recalled Jirele once talking him through a rough time at home.

“He even came to get me from class and took me out for a walk the next day to see how I was doing and even asked me if I was OK and that if I needed to talk no matter time of day or night he was there,” Seedorf said.

Seedorf said one time he and Jirele met at McDonald’s, Jirele’s favorite place for coffee, and talked about fishing and hunting.

“He was the best person ever,” Seedorf added. “You would never find a heart as big as his.”

ALHS senior Erin Murtaugh described Jirele as a positive, happy person. She knew him from school, church at St. Theodore Catholic Church and through playing the violin.

He was a member of two community orchestras.

ALHS senior Carter Dahl said he will remember Dahl for his positive attitude. He would often come out and hit tennis balls with the tennis team.

Mark Blong, Sibley Elementary School art teacher, said he will remember his hunting trips with Jirele.

Jirele would come a couple times a week and borrow his two black Labradors to take hunting with him.

“He was always a pretty good shot,” Blong said. “He would get frustrated when he missed, but he didn’t miss very often.”

Blong said he last saw Jirele Friday at the ALHS football game.

Jirele’s funeral services are slated for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Theodore Catholic Church in Albert Lea. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bonnerup Funeral Services and one hour prior to the service on Thursday. See an obituary on Page 3.