Minnesota amateur baseball commemorates Leo Wirth

By Patrick Johnson

news@mnbaseball.org

At the funeral for Leo J. Wirth, most of those in attendance donned blue and gold — Kimball’s school colors — in honor of the man who gave so much to the community he loved.

Wirth died Friday, July 14, 2023 at the age of 82. He leaves behind a legacy of significant contributions, most of which surround the worlds of Kimball athletics and Minnesota amateur baseball. 

Tom Marquardt, a Kimball graduate and manager of the Kimball Express amateur baseball team, knew Wirth for over 50 years. Marquardt first met Wirth in 1971 when he was in seventh grade. A bit later, in 1975, Wirth invited Marquardt to play for the Express when he was a junior at Kimball High School and Wirth was the manager. The two became close friends over the years and as well as neighbors near Central Minnesota’s Carnelian Lake. 

“He bled blue and gold,” Marquardt said. “He would do anything for the school and this community — there’s no doubt about it.”

Fitting, then, Wirth’s funeral was held at Kimball High School’s Leo J. Wirth Gymnasium, which bears his name in honor of his decades of service to athletics in his community. 

Wirth began his 36-year career with the Kimball Area Public Schools in 1964 and is where he met his wife Marilyn. During his tenure he taught vocational agriculture and science, served as vice principal and as the school’s activities director and was instrumental in establishing the current Central Minnesota Conference, to which Kimball belongs. He is a member of the Kimball Hall of Fame. 

“There have been a lot of people who have made an impact, but there’s not many who have done it for almost 60 years,” Marquardt said. “I don’t know of anybody that’s been that committed to a community in that way.”

Worth spent 54 years as the Central Valley League secretary and 35 years as a regional commissioner. He was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, was named the Region 5A Athletic Director of the Year in 1998 and received the Mike Downes Memorial Award for his outstanding service to amateur baseball in October of 2022.

Bruce Geislinger took over for Wirth as Region 11 Commissioner at the beginning of last year, but the two go back to the late 1980s, when Geislinger began playing and managing amateur ball in the Central Valley League with Watkins. 

“He is really going to be missed,” Geislinger said. “This league is going to miss him tremendously. He was so dedicated and so organized. He was really good. You are not going to replace him.”

Roughly 300 teams from all over Minnesota play amateur baseball during the summer with the seasons culminating at state tournaments in August. 

For many years, the Central Valley League has worked with other leagues to form a region, and the exact makeup of the region Wirth oversaw shifted over the years, leading Wirth to collaborate with the Stearns County League, the Sauk Valley League, the Victory League, North Star League, Corn Belt and Lakewood League.

“More than anything, Leo cared about this league and everyone in our league,” Geislinger said. “He wanted our league to be as successful as possible. His heart and soul was to the Central Valley League. No doubt about it.”

To be certain, Wirth was never idle. In addition to his career as an administrator and his dedication to the Central Valley League, he also coached volleyball, officiated junior varsity games for volleyball, football, basketball, baseball, and softball and worked the clock and the official book for boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball games over the years. Back in 1990, Wirth helped lead an effort to build a new United Methodist Church in Kimball. He was also a vital member of the Kimball Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kimball Golf Club, helping create the summer recreation program and led a group to construct a golf course in Kimball. 

He also spent two years, from 1983-85, leading an effort to repair the Kimball baseball field after a flood caused significant damage. 

“He’d never say no if someone asked him to do something,” Marquardt said. “He’d just tighten up his belt and do it, so to speak. No wasn’t in his vocabulary. He was always willing to give a hand.”

Marquardt said he was going to miss bowling and playing softball with Wirth or just the times he would drop by his office to talk baseball. 

“I always respected him a lot,” Marquardt said. “And he had respect for me, even though I was younger. That really meant something to me. It’s certainly going to be a hole in my heart, that’s for sure.”

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