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Carleton College mourns the loss of Jack Thurnblad ’49

February 14, 2018 at 12:54 pm
Jack Thurnblad
Jack Thurnblad

NORTHFIELD, Minn. – The Carleton College athletic community lost a cherished member as Jack Thurnblad ’49 passed away on Feb. 12 at the age of 96. He served as the school’s head men’s basketball coach from 1960-84, head men’s golf coach from 1965-89, and was a charter member of the school’s ‘C’ Club Hall of Fame.

Thurnblad amassed a then-school record 243 victories as Carleton’s basketball coach, nearly doubling the next-highest win total to that point. His 1965-66 squad won the Midwest Conference title, of which Carleton was a member at that time.

He began guiding the Carleton men’s golf program in 1965 and took on duties as men’s athletic director starting in 1970. He retired as men’s basketball coach and professor emeritus of physical education for men in 1984 but continued to coach men’s golf until 1989. His golf squads were runners up at the Midwest Conference championships a total of six times. He also spent time as an assistant football coach at Carleton.

The West Gymnasium court was renamed in 2008 to honor Jack and his wife, Jinny ‘48. The couple were connected to Carleton for more than 60 years, earning countless awards and recognition for service to their alma mater. For many students, the memories of time spent in the Thurnblads’ home are most treasured.

Jack Thurnblad was an outstanding athlete during his time at Carleton, which came after a year spent at Illinois Wesleyan University and a stint in the U.S. Navy. A star basketball and baseball player under the guidance of legendary Carleton coach Mel Taube, Thurnblad was a three-time all-conference performer in basketball and attended spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies before he came to Carleton. At one time, he held Carleton basketball scoring records for points in a season and the Sayles-Hill Gymnasium single-game scoring record.

Upon graduation, he first coached baseball and basketball at Hastings (Minn.) High school and then at Wayzata (Minn.) High School, leading the latter to the 1959 state basketball title, that school’s only title in boys’ basketball. A year later, Thurnblad returned to his alma mater, where he remained until leaving coaching nearly three decades later.

Thurnblad was a leader at the national level, serving on the NCAA Rules Committee and earning an outstanding service award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). He also was a dedicated ambassador of basketball internationally, giving lectures and clinics in Australia, Russia, and Mexico.

Thurnblad continued to be a strong supporter of Carleton teams, even attending the men’s basketball game this past Saturday.

Funeral services will be at Church of St. Dominic in Northfield on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 1 p.m. Visitation will be on Friday, Feb. 16 from 4-8 p.m. at the Skinner Memorial Chapel on the campus of Carleton College and one hour prior to Saturday’s service at the church.

A celebration of Thurnblad’s life will also be held in the spring at Carleton. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorials to the Jack Thurnblad Memorial Fund to benefit the Carleton Athletic Department. 

Remembrances of Jack may be written on the Farewells site.

A more complete obituary can be found at the Bierman Funeral Home website.


“Coach Jack was an ambassador for Carleton and for the game of basketball. We will miss his presence at our games, the post-game chats, his strong handshake, and especially his smile after our victories. The passion he had for the game, but more importantly for his players even after they left Carleton, is an example all coaches should try to emulate. We’re proud to carry on his legacy.”

-- Guy Kalland, Carleton men’s basketball coach (1984-present)


“He had the experience, personality, intellect, and temperament to have made Carleton sports winning and enjoyable for countless individuals and teams. Bob Gelle, retired St. Olaf basketball coach, often comments on how tough Jack's teams were… Friendly, warm, out-going, fair, positive, always helpful, and tireless. He was a great man to work for, too… The cribbage games of the retirement home where he lived and the black jack tables of regional casinos will become much less competitive now; that boy loved games!”

-- Bill Huyck, Carleton men’s cross country and men’s track & field coach (1958-1984