James C. Gremmels

Black and white image of Jim Gremmels.

James (Jim) Gremmels was a long-time professor of English at the University of Minnesota Morris and was one of the 13 original faculty members. Gremmels arrived on campus in 1960, hired to both teach English and coach basketball. Although he formally stepped down as basketball coach after only four years, he continued in the classroom for 40 years, during which time he founded the Prairie Gate Press and garnered a reputation as an especially popular and innovative instructor. His love for UMN Morris was expressed by the maroon and gold stripes he had emblazoned on two of his cars.


born in Chicago, IL on May 20

received his B.A. in English from Augustana University

received his M.A. in American studies from the University of Minnesota

English Faculty Member

Jim Gremmels was a member of the English faculty from the opening year of UMN Morris until his retirement in 2000.

Men's Basketball Head Coach

Jim Gremmels was the first men's basketball coach at the University of Minnesota Morris. He stepped down from the position in 1964 to focus on his teaching.

promoted to Assistant Professor of English

received the Standard Oil (Indiana) Foundation Horace T. Morse Award [1]

inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University of Minnesota [2]

retired from UMN Morris

inducted into the UMN Morris Cougar Hall of Fame [3]

inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame [4]

died in Glenwood, MN on September 25

honored by UMN Morris through renaming of basketball court in his name

Personal Life

Born in Chicago, Gremmels grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where he graduated from Washington High School.  In high school, he lettered in football, basketball, and track.[5] Shortly after his discharge from the Army in 1947, he enrolled at the University of Iowa to study engineering. He later transferred to South Dakota State University and finally to Augustana College in Sioux Falls. At Augustana, he studied English and philosophy and played basketball, receiving his B.A. in 1952.[6] After completing his M.A. in American studies in 1955 at the University of Minnesota, he taught in Watertown, Minnesota.[7] From there he moved to Glenwood, Minnesota where he taught and coached basketball for five years.[8]

In 1952 Gremmels married Ruth Troen, the daughter of a Lutheran minister, in Minot, North Dakota. Together they had three sons. Ruth finished her degree in elementary education at UMN Morris in 1965 and then taught in Glenwood area schools for the next 27 years.[9] 


Research and Teaching

Gremmels helped to develop and teach a wide range of courses in the English Discipline at the University of Minnesota Morris. Reflective of his command of English literature, at one point in 1999 he could claim to have taught all but four English courses listed in the UMN Morris catalog. He specialized in American literature and was particularly interested in the literature of Midwestern prairie towns. Exemplifying UMN Morris’s commitment to an interdisciplinary approach to liberal learning, in the winter and spring of 1982 he teamed up with Ellen Ordway from biology, Fred Peterson from art history, and Roland Guyotte from history to offer an interdisciplinary course on the American prairie.[10] His intellectual interests, though, were varied and, while he loved teaching Melville’s Moby Dick, he could also speak expertly to the sociological dimensions of John Updike’s Rabbit Run.[11] Insistent that students learn the basics of effective writing, Gremmels authored The Manual, a handbook for teaching English and an article in the Minnesota English Journal on publishing writing for older adults. In addition, he was an active editor for the Prairie Gate Press, the small press he operated at UMN Morris.

Community Involvement

Community Involvement

Gremmels rooted himself in the West Central community and made Glenwood in nearby Pope County his home for over forty years. His involvement in the region ranged from educational outreach to politics. Bringing his interest in the literature of rural America to area residents, Gremmels developed and led in 1974 a Seminar Series for adult learners entitled “Small Towns in Minnesota.”[12] He also received a Minnesota State Humanities Grant to teach five sessions on the American short story to community members at the Alexandria Public Library in 1989.[13] Together with Laird Barber, Gremmels organized special programs for high school English instructors in the area from 1988-1990. For much of his career, he was active in Democratic Farmer Labor politics, serving both on the Executive Committee and in 1984 chairing the Pope County organization.[14]

Campus Contributions

As an English instructor, Gremmels was very involved on campus. In 1962, he started a campus literary magazine, Satura, in which students and faculty could submit pieces.[15] In the spring of 1971, Gremmels brought the Prairie Gate Press to campus and set it up with Tom Hennen for the UMN Morris community.[16] Gremmels would continue to run the press as managing editor and help students publish poetry, cookbooks, games, and posters. After its establishment by W.D. Spring, Gremmels was one of the faculty members who worked in the Writing Room starting in 1975.[17] He was also responsible for developing the freshman English program. Throughout his years at UMN Morris, he would design many courses with fellow colleagues, including an American prairie course, a Shakespeare course, and a drama performance and analysis course.[18]

Gremmels began his career at the University of Minnesota Morris as the men’s basketball head coach in addition to his role as English faculty. Even though he resigned from his head coach position in 1964 due to “the press of duties of an English professor,” Gremmels maintained his interest in intercollegiate athletics over the years.[19] He served on a variety of intercollegiate athletic committees, including acting as the president of the Northern Intercollegiate Conference Board of Control and the faculty representative for the Northern Sun Conference.[20] He also served as an assistant basketball coach in 1999, making him the oldest assistant coach in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Gremmels was inducted into the Cougar Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.[21]

Gremmels committee involvement was extensive; he was on almost every committee on campus at some point during his career.[22] In addition, Provost Briggs created a task force in 1969 to revise the UMN Morris Constitution for which Gremmels was one of six faculty members chosen.[23] He later was a member of the Action Group, which would attempt to boost recruitment at the University of Minnesota Morris starting in 1978.[24] Gremmels was active in system-wide governance in addition to his considerable campus service. He served on the University Senate and the Senate Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP) for a number of years and was the Morris representative on the Senate Faculty Consultative Committee from 1993-1996.[25]

After UMN Morris

Although Gremmels retired in 2000, he never fully stepped away from the University of Minnesota Morris. Until his death in 2009, Gremmels continued working part-time with the UMN Morris men’s basketball team and teaching part-time. Throughout his life up until the end, he could be found playing H-O-R-S-E. After his death, a lasting physical legacy remains on campus in the renaming of the basketball court to the Jim Gremmels Court in 2010 and in the Atom sculpture donated by his son, Paul, in 2016. Gremmels’ pride and commitment to the University of Minnesota Morris is apparent. In a reflection, Gremmels writes “I have never met a ruined UMM graduate.”[26]

Lauren Solkowski
Stephen Gross (Editor)
Naomi Skulan (Editor)


[1]Gremmels Honored by Foundation Award,” Vanguard (Morris, MN), May 24, 1968.
[2] Mary Jane Smetanka, “75 ‘U’ faculty named ‘Distinguished Teachers,’” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), Jan. 20, 1999.  
[3] Jenna Ray, “Gremmels to enter Hall of Fame,” University Relations (Morris, MN), Aug. 10, 2006. 
[4] “Bits and pieces,” UMMRA Info (Morris, MN), 2007.
[5] Tom Larson, “UMM loses ‘Renaissance Man,’” Morris Sun Tribune (Morris, MN), Oct. 2, 2009.
[6] Dennis Anderson, “A hard-court and chalkboard star,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), Nov. 15, 2009.
[7]  Jenna Ray, “University of Minnesota, Morris celebrates the life of the late Jim Gremmels, professor and coach,” University Relations (Morris, MN), Apr. 1, 2010.
[8]  Sioux Falls Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), July 26, 1963. 
[9] “Ruth A. (Troen) Gremmels,” Hoplin-Hitchcock Funeral and Cremation Services, 2015
[10] Peggy Ames, “Winter-Spring seminar still in works,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Nov. 4, 1981.
[11] “Humanities Division discusses problems of modern youth in panel sponsored by IRC,” Vanguard (Morris, MN), Oct. 27, 1966.
[12] “Gremmels to speak on small towns in literature,” Vanguard (Morris, MN), May 6, 1974.
[13] James Gremmels, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 17, 1999.
[14] James Gremmels, “DFL endorsed,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Oct. 29, 1980.
[15]  “Satura—New Literary Magazine on Campus,” Vanguard (Morris, MN), May 20, 1963.
[16] Robin Little, “Kore,” Vanguard (Morris, MN), Mar. 29, 1971.
[17]  Pam Russell, “Writing room offers help with composition,” Campus Community Writer (Morris, MN), Apr. 14, 1975.
[18]  “UMM offers ‘little course on the prairie,’” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Nov. 11, 1981 ; “Special Shakespeare class in the offing,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Nov. 3, 1982 ; “On your marks,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Sept. 27, 1985.
[19] “Gremmels resigns,” St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN), Feb. 10, 1964
[20] Tom Elliott, “Cougars coach hires his dad,” St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN), Oct. 2, 1999
[21] Jenna Ray. “Gremmels to enter Hall of Fame
[22] James Gremmels, “Curriculum Vitae”
[23]  “Briggs picks task force,” Vanguard (Morris, MN), Feb. 26, 1969.
[24] Vicki Davies, “Action group begins study of declining UMM enrollment,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Nov. 7, 1978.
[25] James Gremmels, “Curriculum Vitae”
[26] James Gremmels, “21 years at UMM: a reflection,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Apr. 8, 1981.

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