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Black History Month Alumni Profiles: Alex Rowell, Jr. ’68

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Alex Rowell Jr. (‘68) at Minnesota Youth Athletic Services.

Alex Rowell Jr. (‘68) at Minnesota Youth Athletic Services.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services.

Alex Rowell Jr. (‘68) at Minnesota Youth Athletic Services.

Grace Onsrud, Staff Writer

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Alex Rowell Jr. (‘68) is a man of many talents. During his time as a student at Luther College, he played football, basketball and baseball, going on to play in the minor leagues for the Minnesota Twins from 1968 to 1970.

Rowell began playing baseball and basketball during his childhood in the suburbs of Chicago. His athletic skills grew throughout high school, and he became an all-conference football player. He decided to come to Luther after he was recruited by a Luther football coach. He knew he wanted to play baseball professionally, so he decided to give up football during college.

Like many Luther students today, Rowell was busy and multi-interested. He was an all-conference player in both basketball and baseball for his entire time at Luther. He majored in physical education and minored in history. He remembers his time as a student athlete fondly.

“My favorite part [about being a student at Luther] was the camaraderie with all of my teammates, the success we had over my four years in both basketball and baseball, and the wonderful relationships [I had] with many of the students and faculty,” Rowell said. “I made a lot of friends that I am friends with to this day.”

He was popular at Luther, among students and staff alike.

“I started at Luther as a good student and a superb athlete,” Rowell said. “I was elected as freshman class president.”

Rowell also met his wife Saundra Rowell (‘69) at Luther, and a few professors from his days at Luther came to Chicago for his wedding.

Rowell said that being a black athlete at Luther in the 1960’s did not affect him much.

“I came from a very [racially] integrated high school and community so it was really not a big issue for me,” Rowell said. “I really didn’t think about it at all.”

During the spring of his senior year, Luther’s president at the time, Elwin Farwell, asked him to come back the next fall to teach physical education and work as an assistant coach to the basketball team. He agreed because his wife would be a senior at that point, and he knew he was going to be drafted in the free agent draft for baseball. He left Luther during the spring of 1969 to start spring training with the Minnesota Twins. He played in the Twins’ minor league for two summers while teaching during the school year.

After his teaching job at Luther, Rowell taught physical education and coached at Gustavus Adolphus College and North High School in Minneapolis. He eventually went on to a career in medical device sales, but he remained active in the athletic community. He has held leadership positions in organizations such as the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services Board of Directors, The Minnesota Twins Community Fund Board of Directors, and the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, which is a government appointed position.

Bob Naslund (‘65) worked as a coach at Luther during the same time as Rowell and shared an office with him for one year. He worked at Luther in some capacity from his graduation until his retirement in 2008, and he said that Rowell was one of the best athletes he had seen at Luther while he was there.

“He was a great person as well as a great athlete,” Naslund said. “He was humble.”

He remembers that while Rowell was playing basketball for Luther, a coach of an opposing team told him that Rowell was the player that cost him the most sleep.

“He was as good as anybody anywhere,” Naslund said. “And that was only his second best sport.”

Naslund remembers Rowell’s time at Luther as a time of change. Elwin Farwell became the president of Luther in 1963 and made it his mission to increase enrollment at the school, including the enrollment of African-American students.

“When Farwell came in 1963, our student body was about 1,100 total,” Naslund said. “There were probably at the most four or five black students. Farwell’s mission was to build this college, and by 1970 we nearly doubled enrollment and had about one hundred African-American students.”

Alex Rowell was the only black student on Luther’s baseball team during his time here, but he described him as well-received by his peers and the faculty.

“I think people gravitated towards him,” Naslund said. “People wanted to be on his team because there was a chance you might win.”

Rowell is now retired and living in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, but he continues to hold leadership positions on The Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission and the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services Executive Board. He is still involved in sports to this day, golfing as often as he can.

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