November 26, 2013

Honoring a Piper Legend

Vern Mikkelsen Passes Away Main

The Pipers observed a moment of silence to honor basketball great and alumnus Vern Mikkelsen who passed away recently. Mikkelsen, ’49, brought Pipers’ basketball to prominence in the 1940s and went on to a celebrated career in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He passed away on November 21 at his home in Wayzata, Minnesota. He was 85 years old.

Current Piper athletes, students, staff, faculty, and fans paused before the men's basketball game on Tuesday, November 26 at 8 p.m. to remember Mikkelsen for his contributions on and off the court. Appropriately, this tribute took place in historic Hutton arena where Mikkelsen's #13 jersey holds a place of prominence and the former Piper's name is emblazoned on Hamline's Basketball Row of Honor.

“Vern Mikkelsen's contributions to an entire generation of athletes cannot be measured in statistics of wins and losses--he was a winner to all who knew him, a gentleman, a consummate sportsman and role model of ethical behavior, loyalty to team, and generosity of spirit,” Hamline University President Linda N. Hanson said. “He was beloved and will be greatly missed.”

Mikkelsen was raised in the tiny town of Askov, Minnesota. At the age of 16, his skills on the court came to the attention of another towering figure in Hamline basketball history, Coach Joe Hutton Sr. Hutton brought Mikkelsen to the university in 1945 where the young basketball player was a standout power forward, also known for his defensive skills. During his tenure, the Pipers posted a 78-11 overall record, winning a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) title, finishing third in another NAIA contest, and earning a pair of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAC) crowns. Mikkelsen was named all-conference all three seasons he played at Hamline and also made the All-America team in 1949. Hamline’s 1948-49 team, which also included future professional basketball players Hal Haskins and Joe Hutton, Jr., is considered one of the best college teams in Minnesota basketball history.

“Mr. Mikkelsen’s legacy is cemented into Hamline Athletics and the prestige of the Hamline basketball program,” Hamline Athletic Director Jason Verdugo said. “Mr. Mikkelsen’s athletic achievements speak for themselves. Many at Hamline describe him as an extraordinary athlete, but an even better person.”

From Hamline, Mikkelsen moved to the Minneapolis Lakers where he spent ten seasons. He was a member of four NBA championship teams and played in six All-Star games. He also served as coach and general manager of the American Basketball Association’s Minnesota Pipers.

Following his professional basketball career, Mikkelsen returned to Hamline, working a dozen years as part of the university relations staff.

“Vern’s job was to help us stay connected and build relationships with our athletic alumni,” said Dan Loritz, emeritus vice president for university relations at Hamline. “I think it is safe to say that he played a role in nearly every major renovation done to facilities in recent years. He simply knew how to talk with people.”

Mikkelsen was part of the initial class inducted into Hamline’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1965. Thirty years later, he joined another elite group when he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mikkelsen’s #13 Hamline basketball jersey also now holds a prominent place in the Pipers’ Basketball Row of Honor in Hamline’s historic Hutton Arena.

"For many reasons, Vern Mikkelsen will always be a legend to Hamline University, with his basketball ability being just one of them. He demonstrated humility, kindness, and incredible modesty," Bob Klas Jr., chair of the Hamline Board of Trustees, said. "
His greatness stems from the fact that as good as he was on a basketball court, Vern Mikkelsen was an even better person away from it."

Funeral services were held on Tuesday, November 26 at 3 p.m. at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, 715 Minnetonka Mills Road, Hopkins, Minnesota.