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College Athletics: Long-time Raiders' coach remembered

Central Lakes College lost a long-time Raider. Dennis Eastman, a coach of numerous Raider sports over the course of his 26-year tenure at CLC, died Saturday, April 8, after an extended illness. Eastman was a health and physical education instruct...

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Central Lakes College lost a long-time Raider.

Dennis Eastman, a coach of numerous Raider sports over the course of his 26-year tenure at CLC, died Saturday, April 8, after an extended illness.

Eastman was a health and physical education instructor at the college and was also athletic director for a number of years. He coached football, women's basketball and softball for the Raiders. Eastman's 1995-96 women's basketball team won the NJCAA Division III national championship.

Before Eastman started at the college in 1990, he obtained multiple degrees in his field, including a bachelor's of science in recreation from Moorhead State University, a bachelor's of science in physical education from Mayville State University, a master's degree in sports management from the U.S. Sports Academy and a diploma in massage therapy from the Minnesota School of Business.

He also taught two years from 2005-2007 at Century College in White Bear Lake.

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Long-time friend and colleague, Mike Barnaby, CLC director of financial aid, said in a news release, "Denny was passionate about his wife, Pam, and children, Megan and Zack. He truly loved being a coach and getting to know his student athletes. He was the proverbial big man with a big heart."

Barnaby and Eastman were hired in the early 1990s at what was then Brainerd Community College. They grew close in the two decades at the college together.

"Dennis touched everybody that he was associated with-other coaches, players and students," said Raiders athletics director, coach and colleague Jim Russell. "But most importantly, he made a huge impact on the lives of our student athletes. His teams were his family.

"Dennis had a great athletic career himself, and he wanted to bring those experiences here to give our students a unique opportunity. When he coached, he truly connected to the students."

Jane Peterson, a long-time colleague and CLC's head volleyball coach, said Eastman had a way with students that made them feel cared for.

"Dennis and I definitely had different coaching styles," Peterson said. "His ways challenged me and forced me to examine my own intentions. When his women's basketball team won a national championship in 1996, that was incredibly motivating to me to aim high-the highest."

Former CLC student Chuck Stevens, who played football from 1996-97, said Eastman encouraged him to stay in the sport when he considered not playing his second year. After getting back on track following academic probation, Stevens contemplated leaving the team. One summer night while working at a gas station, the business' phone rang. It was Eastman on the other end of the line.

"He reminded me of my talent and all of the work I had put in to just throw away," Stevens said. "We talked for 20 minutes about life and growing up in general. ... I was forever grateful of the effort on his part because the next season I experienced one of the most successful and enjoyable teams I had ever been part of."

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A celebration of Eastman's life will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 23, in the CLC gym.

The public is invited to attend.

A visitation for friends and family will be from noon-2 p.m. prior to the celebration of life.

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