Suhr Legacy to Live On at Midland

Suhr Legacy to Live On at Midland

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Joel Suhr ‘76, was a big man with an even bigger heart, and he always had a special place in that heart for Midland University. Suhr passed away on Sept. 5, 2018 at the age of 64. He was a member of the Warriors basketball team from 1972-76 and the pride in his alma mater remained with him long after his playing days were over.

Thanks to the efforts of the Suhr family, Joel’s name and memory will remain a presence at Midland. A $500 scholarship in his honor will be presented each year to a member of the Midland University men’s basketball team. Emmanuel Bryson, a sophomore guard from Grovetown, Georgia, received the inaugural scholarship during an Oct. 19 game against Bethany College at the Wikert Event Center.

It was a common sight to see Suhr and his wife, Mary, at a Midland athletic event or a performing arts show. Joel’s 6-foot-7 frame made him easy to spot in a crowd. “His presence was huge, but he was a big guy with a gentle spirit,” said Oliver Drake, Midland University men’s basketball coach. “Joel was a guy you saw everywhere. He was so supportive of every event. Wherever there was a Midland event, there was Joel.”

Joel had a deep connection to Midland. His father, Marvin, graduated from Midland in 1944. His brother, Paul, and his wife, Donna (Jedlicka) were also Midland grads while Joel had numerous other relatives who called Midland home. When money for memorials began flowing in for the family after Joel’s passing, there was only one place they knew that money should go. “We all knew Joel loved Midland and when we started to determine where the memorials should go, we all immediately said Midland,” said his wife, Mary. “Giving to Midland was a way for us to celebrate Joel and bring some joy to our sadness.”

Finding a recipient for the scholarship goes well beyond the contributions on the basketball court. “When we looked at the criteria, we asked ourselves ‘what did Joel embody?’ He was always a positive guy and made others feel good. Who embodies that in our program?,” Drake said. “It’s how guys carry themselves off the court and they had to be aligned with Joel’s values. Manny brought those things to the table. He brings a positive energy in everything he does.”

Bryson was also presented with a plaque from the Suhr family. Mary recalled how Joel was proud of the Henry W. Schultz Award he received during his senior year of high school in Fort Dodge, Iowa and wanted the scholarship recipient to feel that same gratification. “Joel’s award was about character and sportsmanship and he was always so proud of it,” Mary said. “This gave us a chance to pay it forward and do something similar for a Midland basketball player.”

Joel’s time at Midland sparked a lifelong affinity for his alma mater. His journey through life took he and Mary many different places, but when he retired in 2009, he knew where he wanted to be. “We had tons of family in the area and it seemed like we were always in Fremont a lot,” Mary said. “Joel was always very good about keeping in touch with old friends and teammates.”

His gregarious personality endeared him to people of all ages. Because of his white beard and large frame, he was given the honor of playing Santa Claus for family members each holiday season. Drake said Joel’s ability to make people feel at home was a welcoming presence when he took over the Warrior program six years ago. “He and Mary were such welcoming people and they really made my wife and me feel at home when we got here,” Drake said. “Joel was a great friend from the start.”

That warming spirit was often on display around the Midland campus and Fremont community. Whether at the Wikert Event Center for basketball and volleyball, Heedum Field for tailgates and football, or the Kimmel Theatre for a concert or production, Joel and Mary were Midland supporters to the core. “When we went to something, it wasn’t just for the varsity game. We would get there at 3 o’clock and watch the junior varsity matches,” Mary said. “And Joel would talk to everyone. He made a lot of friends over the years.”

Mary believes the greatest way to honor Joel’s memory is to have his name forever linked to Midland University. “It’s been so great for us to see something positive come out of this and we’re so thankful for all the people that gave memorials because without them, this wouldn’t have been possible,” she said.

About 40 family members were in attendance to honor Joel during the scholarship presentation and see his legacy passed on to the next generation of standout Warriors. “It will allow us to get together once a year to celebrate Joel, and celebrate a young person receiving the scholarship,” Mary said. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I’m so thankful for Midland for helping us be successful in what we wanted to do.”