Remembering ‘Mr. Pacelli’Published 10:17am Wednesday, September 25, 2013
School’s first inductee to athletic hall of fame left lasting legacy
A man who was known as “Mr. Pacelli” is being remembered for his skills on the basketball court and his talent with a violin.
Orrie Jirele, 73, died Saturday of a heart attack while duck hunting on the northwest corner of Pickerel Lake near Albert Lea.
Jirele, who was an avid violinist, was the MVP of the 1958 Pacelli basketball state championship team, and he went on to play basketball at Division I St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., where he also earned a music scholarship. That team finished No. 2 in the country in 1961.
“People called him Mr. Pacelli, and he was so magnetic,” Pacelli advancement director Norm Blaser said. “He was a great guy, and he will be missed.”
Jirele played with former NBA player Bob Lanier at St. Bonaventure, and Sports Illustrated also wrote a short article about Jirele.
Despite the fact that Jirele was the MVP of Pacelli’s state champions, you wouldn’t know he was an athlete unless you asked him. Jerry Ulwelling, a Pacelli grad six years younger than Jirele, remembers him as a quiet, friendly kid.
“He was our hero when we were growing up,” Ulwelling said. “He was never self-promoting, and he was very humble. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Jirele was the first inductee into the Pacelli High School athletic Hall of Fame out of 7,000 grads. He coached Pacelli’s freshman basketball team for a year; he coached Rochester Lourdes to three straight state titles from 1966 to 1968 and coached for five years at East High in Green Bay, Wis., before coming to Albert Lea to coach.
Although he was coaching for the Tigers, Jerele stayed in touch with Austin as he attended most of Pacelli’s events, and Ulwelling continued to talk with him two or three times per year.
“He was a great Christian, and I think he really lived his faith,” Ulwelling said. “He was a terrific role model, and he did everything right.”
Jirele started working in Albert Lea in 1973 and continued there until 2002.
Jirele was inducted into the Wall of Inspiration at Albert Lea High School in April. His nomination letter said he consistently helped at the school and said he was an inspiration and role model.
Rich Wendorff, Albert Lea High School graduate of 1976, played basketball for Jirele his junior and senior year.
“He literally transformed Albert Lea basketball,” said Wendorff, who now lives in Lakeville. “Prior to 1973 before he came, Albert Lea did OK, but there was always something missing. He literally turned the program around and impacted so many players.”
Wendorff said Jirele was not only a coach to the players but a friend who always showed interest in how they were doing.
“He just made you feel good about yourself,” he said.
Jirele: ‘He always wanted the best for us’
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Greg Sorenson, who also played basketball when Jirele first began coaching, described him as an emotional and passionate man.
“Regardless of the obstacle, nobody or nothing could take his spirit for life, basketball, education, kids or the violin from him,” Sorenson said.
He said Jirele was always doing something for someone else and had a way of captivating a room full of people.
Mike Petersen, part owner of Security Insurance, played with Jirele the last year he coached for the high school in 1987.
“He always wanted the best for us, which at times meant having to push us to make sure we were getting the most out of our potential,” Petersen said.
He said the lessons Jirele taught were beyond basketball.
ALHS senior Erin Murtaugh described Jirele as a positive, happy person. She knew him from school, St. Theodore Catholic Church and through playing the violin.
He was a member of two community orchestras.
ALHS senior Carter Dahl said he will remember Dahl for his positive attitude. He would often come out and hit tennis balls with the tennis team.
Mark Blong, Sibley Elementary School art teacher, said he will remember his hunting trips with Jirele.
Jirele would come a couple times a week and borrow his two black labradors to take hunting with him.
“He was always a pretty good shot,” Blong said. “He would get frustrated when he missed, but he didn’t miss very often.”
Blong said he last saw Jirele Friday at the ALHS football game.
Jirele’s funeral services are slated for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Theodore Catholic Church in Albert Lea. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bonnerup Funeral Services and one hour prior to the service on Thursday.
Sarah Stultz of the Albert Lea Tribune contributed to this report.