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LeRoy Gardner Jr.
*LeRoy Gardner Jr. was born on May 11, 1947. He was a Black educator, counselor, and community activist.
He was one of three children of Reverend LeRoy Gardner Sr. and Katherine Gardner; he had a sister, Sharon, and a brother, Gordon. He was raised in the Rondo Community of St. Paul, Minnesota. As a teenager, Gardner Jr. was a playground basketball legend. As the community story goes, he (then) a 14-year-old, Ralph Mitchell (19) and Tommy Miller (19) beat (then) University of Minnesota basketball players Lou Hudson, Don Yates, and Archie Clark in a pickup game at St. Paul’s Oxford Park.
Gardner graduated from St. Paul Central high school in 1965. During that time, he helped take their basketball team to its first state tournament berth in years. He scored 41 points in a region semifinal and 33 points in a consolation title game. After that, Gardner became the first state-born black man to receive a full scholarship to play basketball at the University of Minnesota. Gardner claimed he was just an "average" player at the University of Minnesota, but friends and family members said he had the integrity of a leader on and off the court.
He earned undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology. He eventually remade his career at the university, becoming a counselor, adviser, teacher, and mentor. From there, he received his Master of Arts Degree in education and student personnel Psychology. In the 1980s, while he was an academic adviser in the athletic department, he was involved in a scandal involving NCAA rules violations. Football coach Lou Holtz, Gardner said, had given him $500 for a football player. He was told to lie when the time came to talk to NCAA investigators; instead, he told the truth. Al Nuness, a former Gopher teammate with Gardner, said: "Even in the darkest shadows of the Lou Holtz thing, LeRoy held true to his story, and it cost him for a while at the University.''
Disappointed and heartsick in the wake of the NCAA investigation that dismissed his allegation, Gardner left the University for a short time to start a private psychology practice. Gardner soon found his passion in teaching; his pride and joy were all in the students he touched and guided.
Gardner was a staunch supporter of the University's General College and, in later years, taught multicultural relations. He loved to head to Lake Superior's North Shore to camp, and he loved to cook. He was married to Claudia Wallace. Gardner, 61, of Golden Valley, MN., was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2008 and died on September 6, 2008, at Our Lady of Good Counsel in St. Paul.
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Image: University of Minnesota.