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Community invited to celebrate Darlene Palmer, a pioneer in women’s sports

The community is invited to join the family of Darlene Palmer, a pioneer in local women’s sports, for a celebration of life at 2 p.m. Saturday, August 7 in the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus gym. The program will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Coach Palmer was honored for her work including being an inductee into the Wisconsin Rapids High School Hall of Fame, the Raider Athletic Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Community College Hall of Fame and she was awarded the Special Merit Award for Athletic Leadership by the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership.

In May, she passed away at age 92. Darlene is survived by her husband Harold, son Michael Palmer and daughter Betsy Krause, 10 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

Darlene started the women’s athletics program at Brainerd Community College (now Central Lakes College) in 1969 and was on the committee that helped develop the state community college women’s athletic conference, MCAC, which became a sanctioned conference in 1974.

She served as CLC’s volleyball, basketball and softball coach until 1976, while teaching physical education classes. In 1976, she became the Women’s Athletic Director. In 1984, she helped bring golf to BCC and coached men’s and women’s golf until 1987.

Along the way, she coached two state championship teams (softball in 1979 and golf in 1986) and four state runner-up teams.

“Darlene Palmer’s legacy in the world of college athletics is a whole generation of women like me who got to attend college on a volleyball scholarship, who got to spend their careers building young women up in the gym and on the field, and who have the confidence to know that it’s OK to be passionate about competition,” said Jane Peterson, CLC women’s volleyball coach and physical education instructor. “The foundation Darlene laid for passion, resilience, grit, toughness, dedication, love of the game, love of teammates, and all the other qualities that athletics teaches – continues at CLC today and will long into the future.”

Darlene’s daughter Betsy Krause added, “Our mother lived, loved and breathed sports. Establishing women’s athletics at BCC (CLC) was one of her greatest sources of pride, second only to time spent with family. Being part of the team that helped the community college system implement Title IX meant giving young women the opportunity to compete and that meant the world to her.  She was the consummate competitor in everything – yet was mindful of those that had not yet had an opportunity to participate and made sure that they felt included and mentored in the world of sports. Teacher, mentor, coach, player, wife and mother, grandmother, great-grandmother – she led an amazing life.”

Darlene’s son Michael Palmer added, “I don’t think the word ‘work’ was ever used by my mom. Instead, she used ‘enjoyment’. She enjoyed bringing the best out of the teams she coached and the people she taught which created lasting memories for the students and team members over the years.”

Sally Ihne, retired President of Brainerd Community College and CLC (1983-2001), said “She did an excellent job of both administering and strengthening women’s athletics at Brainerd Community College and coaching various teams. She was both a dedicated coach and an instructor who cared deeply for the students she worked with.” 

Darlene Palmer Endowment for Women’s Athletics

In honor of Darlene’s legacy to Women’s Athletics, the family has established the Darlene Palmer Endowment for Women’s Athletics at the Central Lakes College Foundation. Gifts ensure students receive support and that the CLC Women’s Athletics programs remain strong, focused, and innovative for future generations. For more information email Kate.Adornetto@clcmn.edu.

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