Jean Freeman's impact could not be contained by a lifetime.
It is telling that while she transformed collegiate athletics at the University of Minnesota, it is her character that continues to resonate more than a decade since she died in 2010.
"I think you could ask anyone who knew her, both professionally and personally, it was a very unique, positive outlook on life," said Marie Meyer, her partner of eight years. "Always looked at the brighter side. She would help everybody, whoever she came in contact with."
That core element of Freeman, the desire to help others, was on display in 1972 when she graduated after swimming for Minnesota and stayed on as an assistant coach.
After that season she was asked to become head coach of the women's swimming program — and offered $50 for the role. Freeman agreed because she couldn't stand to see the team abandoned. During her first season in 1973-74, she would help Terry Ganley become the first female athlete at the U to earn All-America honors.
Freeman would stay on as coach for 31 years.
She recognized the need for holistic development early in her coaching career, helping athletes with organization and time management around school, serving almost in an academic adviser role, while creating a world-class athletic program.
Freeman led the Gophers to two Big Ten titles, coaching 58 All-Americas and, at the time of her retirement, she was the only female recipient of the National Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Trophy — the highest honor in college swimming.
She was instrumental in the construction of an $11 million state-of-the-art aquatic center on the Minnesota campus that opened in 1990. In 2014, the Gophers named the facility the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in her honor.
It is an unrivaled legacy of development in the sport. But for Freeman, legacy was not her priority.
"I don't think she ever gave it a thought," Meyer said with a laugh. "I really don't. It wasn't important to her. It was never about her. Never. It was always, 'How can I help the next one?'"
While Freeman did not focus on her legacy, it continues to expand. When Meyer was asked if Freeman still had a daily impact on her, she spoke before the question could be finished.
"Every day. Every day. Not just me, anyone who was close to her," Meyer said. "Many of her siblings and nephews and nieces think about her many times in their adult lives now. They mention to me that they ask themselves, 'What would Jean do?' 'What would Jean say?' She had a significant influence."
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Freeman will be inducted into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Wednesday evening at the Mall of America. More information about that free event is here.