Silver Bay native laid foundation for Minneapolis rugbyFor some who are deserving, a statue may stand in their honor. For others, it's a plaque. Nestled in a bucolic bowl in northeast Minneapolis is a finely manicured playing surface, where men and women sweat, ache and bleed for the love of rugby.
By: Paul Walsh, Lake County News Chronicle
For some who are deserving, a statue may stand in their honor. For others, it's a plaque.
Nestled in a bucolic bowl in northeast Minneapolis is a finely manicured playing surface, where men and women sweat, ache and bleed for the love of rugby.
And while that pitch in Columbia Park, measuring about the length of a football field but another 20 or so yards wider, is not named for "Doc Vinny" Vincent, he will forever be associated with that glorious grass rectangle.
Dr. Richard P. Vincent, a dentist who by sheer will and while suffering for years from Crohn's disease was among the most influential figures in organized rugby in the Twin Cities, died Sunday. He was 55.
"Within the continental United States," Minneapolis-based Metropolis rugby club board member Tom Lavin said, "that setup exists in no more than three of four places. ... It's as professional a surface as you can play on from Auckland to London to Victoria. It's pristine, accurate and functional."
Lavin called the pitch Vincent's "enduring legacy, the creation of that field," transformed from a dried-out pond littered with tires, chunks of asphalt and boulders into a premier playing surface that was dedicated in 1998.
More than just conceiving the pitch, Vincent contributed what sweat equity he could as Dave Heebner and other players put down sod and labored until it was done. "We played a tournament on Saturday, then drove back Sunday, laying sod, raking, moving dirt, whatever we were told to do," said Heebner, the Metropolis club president.His illness limited Vincent to light duties, but he gave "inspirational motivation," Heebner said. "We were young and willing to work."
About six years earlier, in the back of the Terminal Bar on E. Hennepin Avenue, Vincent was instrumental in the merger of two clubs into what is now Metropolis, which fields a Division I team that competes across many time zones and a Division II squad that stays closer to home. "The club and Vinny are synonymous," Lavin said. Little wonder that Vincent entered the Metropolis Hall of Fame in 2001, praised by those who inducted him as "a tremendous competitor who made up what he lacked in size with speed, athletic ability and fierce play.
"The club went on to note how he shifted his passion for rugby from the pitch to running the club and then persisting -- with much help from his wife, JoAnne -- in the creation of the field in Columbia Park in coordination with the officials from the state, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation, Board and the neighborhood association.
In a notice to club members Tuesday, Heebner reminded those training in a few hours that "the pitch you take tonight would still be a swamp were it not for Doctor Richard Vincent."
Vincent grew up in Silver Bay, Minn., played rugby at Gustavus Adolphus College, received his degree there and then studied dentistry at the University of Minnesota.
"He liked being a dentist because he could change people's lives by giving them a nice smile," JoAnne Vincent said. "He was an old-fashioned dentist. ... He practically traded chickens -- and actually traded for artwork, dog food, handmade lawn furniture, painting and lawn work -- for services if the patients needed it."
In addition to his wife, Vincent is survived by parents Charles and Doris Vincent of Silver Bay; brothers William and David Vincent; and sisters Deborah Kangas and Sandra Palmquist. Visitations and memorial services were held Aug. 8 and 9 at the Cremation Society of Minnesota in Edina.
Paul Walsh writes for the Star Tribune.