By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
— For decades, Denny Kaus gave of himself to youth sports in St. James.
On Sunday the community gave back to him by naming the high school gym in his honor and memory.
“He’s got the best seat in the house, and he’s looking down on us today,” said Leora Ask, president of St. James District 840 School Foundation.
Gym naming rights are sold annually at the 11-year-old Cash for Kids benefit auction at the school, and Kaus’ name will reign for the 2013-2014 school year.
Normally, naming rights generate $500 or so at the auction. But this year the total came in at $4,400. Half that amount was donated by the community at large, with the other half coming from Ask, a longtime school booster and Kaus friend.
The banner bearing his name will go up at the gym entrance in June.
Kaus, who died in March of a heart attack at 64, was a Mankato High School graduate who worked and lived in St. James until 2003, when he moved back to Mankato.
What did he do for St. James sports? The better question is, what didn’t he do?
Longtime St. James teacher and coach Les Zellmann said he asked Kaus in the 1970s if he would help out with a youth basketball program. Kaus ran with it and then some.
He was still coaching youth basketball teams even after his own kids had long left the program, and over the years he was a volunteer fixture at a variety of athletic events, handling everything from announcing to scorekeeping to keeping statistics.
And his efforts didn’t stop with organized sports. In late summer he’d show up Sunday afternoons at a ballfield and be “all-time” pitcher for kids who’d show up for pickup games in “Denny’s League.”
“The kids just came. He’d pitch to them for two or three hours,” Zellmann said.
The Cash for Kids auction annually raises about $25,000, with all proceeds going to the school foundation.
“It helps pay for all the little educational things — iPads, smart boards, field trips — things a small school system can’t afford,” Ask said.
Auction items Sunday ranged from autographed pro sports gear to vacation trips to concert tickets.