DECC Athletic Hall of Fame comes back around for Keenan

The Grandma's Marathon co-founder helped revive the organization in the early 2000s.

Scott Keenan
Scott Keenan retired as Grandma's Marathon executive director in 2013 after 37 years of overseeing the race.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Seeing as Grandma’s Marathon is a point-to-point affair, it may be surprising for something to come back around in the career of Scott Keenan, the co-founder and executive director that put that event, and with it athletics in Duluth, on the map.

But Keenan’s induction into the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame, which will take place on Thursday at the Harbor Side Ballroom, caught him more than a little unawares, even though it’s part of an effort he helped revive.

“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. It’s a great honor, and I was just really shocked about it,” Keenan said.

Bob King / rking@duluthnews.comScott Keenan, interim UMD women's cross country coach, high-fives team members, including Rhianna Rinke, at the finish of the Dan Conway Classic at Nemadji Golf Course on Thursday afternoon.
Scott Keenan, who served as interim UMD women's cross country coach in 2019, high-fives team members, including Rhianna Rinke, at the finish of the Dan Conway Classic at Nemadji Golf Course. A conversation with Conway many years ago inspired Keenan to aid an effort to revive the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame, to which he is being inducted.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

A big part of the inspiration to revive the organization in the early 2000s came from a loop of a different sort.

Several years ago, Superior running maven Dan Conway was at the DECC Arena examining the displays of all the inductees of what was then known as the Duluth Arena Hall of Fame, which honored approximately 30 Northland sports figures from 1968-86.


And then the phone rang at Keenan’s office at Grandma’s Marathon headquarters.

“I walked around twice and I could not find Garry Bjorklund,” Conway said, according to Keenan.

Keenan did some research and helped form a committee to revive the organization, which now has more inductees from its second iteration than its first. (Bjorklund, the 1976 Olympian and national collegiate champion distance runner, was inducted in 2004.)

Scott Keenan
Scott Keenan tirelessly promoted Grandma's Marathon, turning it into one of the premiere races in America. In this photo, taken in the weeks leading up to the 2001 marathon, he stays busy in his office.
File / Duluth News Tribune

Keenan said the criteria and mission of the hall is the same as it was at its inception.

“It was all about recognizing heroes of the different sports that were in the Northland, and it was very important to recognize those people, their contributions in making Duluth known in the world,” Keenan said. “What was great about it was then they all showed up for the social hour and the dinner and you had a chance to hear what they had to say. It felt great, it was just good that we got it going again and those people who should have been in many, years ago finally had a chance to get inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

Keenan’s service to athletics in the Northland is well-documented. He did so himself in a 2011 retrospective, “My Journey to Grandma's Marathon: History & Heroes,” which covers Grandma’s Marathon through its first running in 1977 as it became a globally recognized event, series of events and, through the Young Athletes Foundation, a fulcrum that has grown athletic development through the region.

So with that in mind, maybe it’s fitting that one of the people Keenan will be inducted with is Kara Goucher, a Duluth East product, Olympian, World Championship medalist and as winner of the women's U.S. Half Marathon championship on Grandma’s weekend in 2012, an enduring part of the lore of the event.

The Duluth East alumna will be inducted into the DECC Hall of Fame on May 4 and have an event at The Bookstore at Fitger's on May 5.

“She’s an Olympian, she’s an incredible person. She definitely, in my mind, is a hometown hero,” Keenan said.


Keenan is approaching the 10-year anniversary of his retirement from running Grandma’s, and last year, handed off his role in the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame. The selection committee came back to find him, even if retired UMD coach and athletic department stalwart Gary Holquist got a large plastic tub of ‘history’ that came with it.

“I handed it (Grandma’s) off in really good position, and of course, I had to do the same thing with the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame. I had to leave it good hands, and Gary Holquist and Dan Russell, it was great for them to take it over,” Keenan said.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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