By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A wrestling legend who never forgot his Minnesota roots is dead at 89.

Verne Gagne spent some of his wrestling days taking it to Jesse Ventura. Gagne was from Corcoran. His wrestling career spanned from 1949 to 1985.

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He made his mark in both amateur and professional wrestling. Gagne had an enormous impact on the wrestling community.

“When he walked into a room he lit it up. He had tremendous charisma, he had that tremendous smile and people just swarmed to him,” Greg Gagne said.

Greg Gagne grew up witnessing the impact his father had on everyone he met.

“We come into the locker room and every guy on the Yankee team came running up to him, I mean Micky Mantle is my idol and these guys are idolizing my father,” Greg said.

A standout athlete at Robbinsdale High School, Verne went on to the University of Minnesota, where he played football and won two NCAA wrestling national championships. Many who knew him say he took the best of what he learned about amateur wrestling, added showmanship and class, and introduced it into the world of professional wrestling.

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“In such a rough sport he brought it such dignity,” Barry Zevan said.

Verne Gagne eventually took over ownership of the American Wrestling Association after winning 10 World Championships. His son says he always had time for fans.

“Always signed autographs and was always the last one to leave the arena, and I believe that taught me more about life and how to treat people than anything,” Greg said.

A gentle giant, Verne had a wonderful sense of humor and a way of gaining respect by showing it.

“He got along with everybody. He was unbelievable, he took time for everybody he was never bigger than anybody else,” Greg said.

Left behind are stories of how he helped many athletes reach their full potential, including his son. They are stories that show just how big of an impact he had on wrestling in Minnesota and across the globe.

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Verne was a huge supporter of the University of Minnesota wrestling program. There is a scholarship there that bears his name. In lieu of flowers the family is asking for people to donate to the U of M wrestling program in honor of legend Vern Gagne.

Reg Chapman