By Amanda Dyslin
---- — LAKE CRYSTAL — Jerry Rollings was one of those people who touched many lives, which was apparent in the Lake Crystal area the past few days.
The entire community seems to be grieving the loss of the 66-year-old resident of Garden City, who worked, coached and volunteered in Lake Crystal for many years before he died Friday of cancer.
On Tuesday Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial staff were out scouting a location to plant a maple tree in Rollings' honor. Others sent emails and were eager to talk to The Free Press about how dedicated Rollings was to the LCWM school district and Lake Crystal community.
And friends and former students, many of whom he coached in softball, filled his Facebook page with inside jokes and tributes.
“Hey Jer Bear. Sitting here reminiscing (about) all the good times on the diamond and remembering all the great advice you've given us. Thank you for giving me the extra push, motivation and encouragement that helped me get to where I am. 'Don't be a lettuce! Don't lettuce down!' Miss you already!! See you in paradise,” wrote Whitney Johnson.
Rollings was a husband to Renee, father of three and grandfather of six. He was an agricultural teacher at Amboy High School from 1969-1976, a Farmland Industries employee in Mankato for more than 20 years, and he worked in economic development for the city of Lake Crystal. Most recently he worked at MinnStar Bank.
What many people are remembering Rollings for is his community service. He was instrumental in starting the LCWM Booster Club in the 1990s, which has raised almost $400,000 since its inception, and he coached girls fast-pitch softball for years in Lake Crystal.
Rollings served as Kari Schwarz's assistant softball coach until 2009, when he announced to the players he had cancer. Then he became an honorary coach when he couldn't be on the field.
“That was a tough year,” said Schwarz, who had known Rollings since she was a child.
Schwarz said Rollings had a way with the kids; he used humor to keep them thinking positively. Coaching together, they would rely on each other's strengths.
“He was very enthusiastic,” she said. “He would help them lift their spirits (if they were having a bad game). He always had that encouraging word.”
Schwarz considered Rollings her own mentor, too.
“He liked to bunt, and I liked to hit away. He was always telling me, 'Now's the time to bunt,'” she said with a laugh. “We really worked well together.”
Schwarz helped get players together to post messages on Rollings' Facebook page. She's been in contact with numerous former players the past several days to talk about their loss.
“They needed to talk about it,” Schwarz said, adding that she did, too.
Rollings' four-year battle with cancer gave his friends and family time to deal with the idea of losing him. But the reality of it has been hard, she said.
Still, Rollings' page is filled with mostly happy memories, showing the positive legacy he left behind.
“Jerry you will never meet my daughter (estimated date of arrival: Christmas Day!) But from time to time, I will tell her stories about you. … If someday she plays softball I'll tell her to never stop at first base, to always try to stretch it into a double or a triple because that is how you would have coached her,” wrote Steve Wegman.
Schwarz has many memories she will treasure beyond their coaching relationship, she said. They were so close, Jerry and Renee (an LCWM family and consumer science teacher) were in Schwarz's wedding.
“I grew up knowing him, and it was an honor to be able to coach alongside him,” she said.
High school principal Linda Isebrand said, among Rollings other contributions, he helped facilitate School Board forums and he worked to bolster the city's business community. Rollings also is credited as being an integral figure in getting the LCWM bond referendum passed and in the completion of the Lake Crystal Area Recreation Center project.
Annette Rode, assistant to the superintendent, said Rollings also was involved with the German Exchange program at LCWM and served as a chaperone to Germany.
“He was a great proponent of the community and just an all-around great guy,” Isebrand said.
A maple tree will be planted near the athletic complex at the high school, and the dedication of the tree and a plaque in Rollings' memory are planned during the homecoming game Sept. 27.