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Bethel Remembers Gerald “Big Jer” Healy

Gerald “Big Jer” Healy, professor of English emeritus and former basketball coach, died on June 19. He is shown here in 2012 with his wife Mildred (Jucht) Healy ’70.

Professor of English Emeritus and former basketball coach Gerald “Big Jer” Healy died on June 19 after battling Parkinson’s disease for the past three years. He was 88.

Healy began working at Bethel in 1955 and retired in 1986. He was basketball coach for eight of those years from 1958-66. George Palke ’66 played on the basketball team under Healy and later became head coach himself. Palke credits Healy with teaching him most of what he has used in his 50-year career as a coach. “Coach Healy was a person with the quickest wit I have ever known. He often would break us up with his comments yet he commanded a great respect from all of us as players and young men learning from him,” Palke said. “Coach is recognized in the Bethel Hall of Fame for his work as a basketball coach, but he should also be recognized for his contribution to the total Bethel community as professor, mentor, ambassador, and recruiter.”  

After Bethel, he and his wife, Mildred (Jucht) Healy ’70 established the Lindis-farne retreat center in Pine City, Minnesota, before retiring a second time in 1999 and moving to Cambridge, Minnesota. Healy is survived by his wife along with their four children—David ’75, Paul ’77 (Alumnus of the Year in 2012), Will ’78, S’81, and Elizabeth ’80.

In the March 2012 Baptist Pietist Clarion, Will Healy, who currently serves as a pastor at Park Avenue Church in Minneapolis, wrote that “for as long as I can remember” he and his siblings affectionately called their father Jer. “It’s not that he wasn’t Dad to us, wrote Will. “It’s just that he let us in a bit further than most of the dads I knew. His was a wisdom fashioned by the poets he read and taught, and by the lore of his own old man, my Grandpa Glen.”

Easily recognized by his towering height and an equally large sense of humor, Healy was always ready to diffuse a situation with a light-hearted, graceful touch. Ron Saari S’73, S’87, retired pastor at Central Baptist Church in St. Paul, wrote about a time that Healy was golfing with his sons when a few foursomes all converged  at one hole. The gathering was devolving into chaos when ‘Big Jer’ took control,” Saari recalled. “He created a hitting order and a sense of community from what could have been a crisis.” Instead of arguing, the groups enjoyed their time golfing together and ended up exchanging business cards at the end, he added. “In the face of belligerence, self-centeredness, hot tempers, and cold hearts, Jerry Healy was an agent of peace and good will,” wrote Saari.

Will Healy characterized Jer as a generous man who responded whole-heartedly to the generosity of the God he loved and served: “His has been a life of generous collegiality, generous scholarship, generous churchmanship, generous friendship, generous gamesmanship, generous fatherhood—a life lived in open-handed response to his always generous God.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on June 25 in Benson Great Hall on Bethel’s campus. Read a full obituary at the St. Paul Pioneer Press online.


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