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51 years after his passing, St. Francis school continues to honor Danny Hauer

Danny Hauer was a 3rd grader at St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School when he tragically passed away from an aneurysm in 1971. It’s been 51 years since he passed, but the school is doing everything in its power to make sure the children still know his name.

Man and woman stand with a plague given to them.
Steve Hauer and Pat Kocer were given a plague in memory of Danny Hauer, May 25, 2022.
Sara Guymon / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Danny Hauer was a third grader at St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School when he tragically passed away from an aneurysm in 1971. It’s been 51 years since he passed, but the school is doing everything in its power to make sure the children remember his name.

Every year the school holds an intramural basketball league for fifth through eighth graders to participate in. There are usually eight teams that play in 14 games throughout the regular season. The championship game is called the Danny Hauer Championship Game in memory of the young boy who died more than 50 years ago.

A plaque of a 3rd grade boy who passed away.
A plaque of Danny Hauer is displayed in the hallway of St. Francis, May 25, 2022
Sara Guymon / Brainerd Dispatch

This year, two very special guests — Hauer’s mother, Pat Kocer, and older brother, Steve Hauer — were in attendance Wednesday, May 24, for the title game between Toon Squad and the Homosapiens.

Kocer and Hauer watched the game in the front row of the crowd. However, getting them there took a lot of investigative work.

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Michelle Johnson, a fourth grade teacher at St. Francis, went on a goose hunt for a photo of Danny Hauer that was lost during renovations. It was important to her to find the picture because her students didn’t even know who Hauer was.

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“Some of the kids were talking about the Danny Hauer tournament like it was like the Reebok tournament,” Johnson said. “They didn't realize it was actually a little boy because that picture was gone.”

She wanted these children to know who Hauer was and began her search for the lost picture in the basement of the school. She dug through old pictures from the ‘70s, but couldn’t find the picture that used to be in a display case.

After coming up empty in the school, Johnson turned to the internet. She found Hauer’s obituary and his sibling’s names from there. Then she took to Facebook, trying to find one of his brothers, Richard Hauer.

There were four Richard Hauers around the right age and Johnson messaged all four of them. Out of the four, only one responded. He was the right Hauer, and from there Johnson learned that Kocer was still alive. Johnson got in contact with Kocer through her son and they were able to get a new picture.

“She had like a little wallet size picture that we had blown up,” said Johnson. “It was pretty special.”

Before the game started, Kocer and Hauer were invited to speak in front of the crowd of parents and children. They were honored to be invited and moved by the memorial.

“It is so amazing that they teach the kids about someone who was here years ago and passed away,” said Kocer. “(Danny) loved the school, loved basketball. (The tournament) means a lot to our family.”

It means a lot to the students, too. The game was an intense 15 minutes and never had one clear winner. The whole school attends the game, and even though the students might have a personal preference on what team they want to win they cheer no matter who scores.

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The final score ended up being 22-21 in favor of the Homosapiens. However, there were no hard feelings between the teams.

“I just like playing against my friends,” said Blake Fenstad, captain of the Homosapiens.

The teams had a very competitive season. The Homosapiens had a record of 13-1 during the regular season and the Toon Squad had a record of 12-2.

“I just like the rivalry,” said Preston Bernander, captain of the Toon Squad.

Man and woman stand with six children who just played basketball
Kocer and Hauer stand with the Homosapiens, the winners of the Danny Hauer Championship Game.
Sara Guymon / Brainerd Dispatch

Steve Hauer and Kocer were moved by their invitation to come watch these students compete in the honor of their lost loved one. Hauer even remembers partaking in the tournament when he was a boy.

“It was a very meaningful tournament for me,” said Hauer. “My team finished second.”

However, the tournament looks a little different than it did when Hauer participated in it. Instead of having eight teams, there were only four. It also was not co-ed; there were only boys participating in the games.

The two things that have stayed the same were the gym, which looks exactly how Steve Hauer remembered it, and the tribute to his late brother.

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“It’s awesome,” said Kocer after the game. “They put their heart and soul into the game. They are so supportive of each other.”

The basketball tournament is something the kids said they look forward to every year. Anyone is allowed to volunteer and play if they choose to do so. The students are also very supportive and encouraging of each other. They give everyone an opportunity to score, even if they are not typically the most athletic.

The Danny Hauer Championship is something cherished by the students, staff, community and family of Hauer. It gives the children an opportunity to learn about leadership and teamwork while honoring the name of a former student who passed away decades ago.

SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5851 or sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com . Follow her on Twitter at  www.twitter.com/Sara_Guymon .

Related Topics: ST. FRANCIS OF THE LAKES
Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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