A loyal Gopher to the end, University of Minnesota swimming icon Jean Freeman added her weak voice to a round of the Minnesota Rouser sung in her hospital room the night before she died of colon cancer.
"She raised her hand a little at the end where you say, 'Yay, Gophers RAH,'" said her sister, Patty Beckmann, of Ham Lake.
U athletic director Joel Maturi had stopped by and led an impromptu performance of the fight song as Freeman lay under a maroon-and-gold quilt.
She shaped the women's swimming program after becoming its first full-time coach upon her 1973 graduation. She led the team to Big Ten championships in 1999 and 2000 and coached 58 All-Americas. In 1999, she was the first woman to win the Outstanding Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. "She was a true pioneer of women's athletics and such a wonderful role model for all of us," Maturi said in a written statement.
Freeman, 60, retired six years ago. She died Oct. 14 at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
"Jean had a million-dollar smile and ... a remarkable ability to bring people together. [She] was revered throughout the university community," said Kathy Brown, a U vice president.
During Freeman's senior year, her swim team's part-time coach became ill, so she stepped in. After earning her physical education degree a year later, she was offered $50 to be head coach in 1973. She accepted and worked several jobs to make ends meet.
Freeman stressed hard work, honesty and a team sense of family, said Terry Nieszner. She was Freeman's first All America swimmer in 1974 and succeeded her as a co-coach. "She wanted to win, but she cared about the total person," Nieszner said.
Freeman's teams had 29 winning seasons, two national individual champions and seven top-20 team national finishes. Her teams won 76 Big Ten individual and relay titles, and Freeman was honored four times as Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Besides Beckmann, Freeman is survived by her mother, Kathryn, of Brooklyn Park; another sister, Sue, of Minneapolis, and three brothers, Tom of Napa, Calif.; Bill of Brooklyn Park, and Bob of Billings, Mont. Services have been held.