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Bourbon Street, Toulouse and Newt

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The corner of Bourbon Street and Toulouse in New Orleans' French Quarter has a special meaning for me today.

A good friend and colleague of mine once told me of a story when he visited New Orleans many years ago.

He saw all the street entertainers doing their thing on the streets and when he got to Bourbon and Toulouse, the corner was open. He told me how he just started dancing. A crowd gathered. A few people even dropped some money at his feet. When he was finished, he received a big round of applause.

My friend and colleague loved telling this story. And today, I learned that individual passed away. It was Newt Loken, and he died at the age of 92.

Yes, he was a great athlete and a great Michigan gymnastics coach, and when I first started working at U-M in 1978, Newt became an instant friend. He always had a smile on his face, he always had time for a chat, and he always had a story.

Like most everyone in the athletics department, I couldn't help but listen to this man talk about sports, life, family or anything that crossed his mind. He could work with anyone, and everyone wanted to work with Newt.

Don Canham was the director of athletics and Bo Schembechler was our football coach at that time. They were different but both were dynamic. I don't know if Newt helped teach me the ropes in the fine art of dealing with those two individuals, but I sure remember how he dealt with Canham.

I would see Canham speaking to Newt on numerous occasions and sometimes Don was a little upset. But on all occasions, Newt would smile and walk away. He never was rattled; he always had the same demeanor.

Watching this happen on more than one occasion, I asked Newt why he didn't argue with Canham or at least explain his side of the story. Newt's reply was simple. He told me Canham wouldn't listen to him anyway and every time he would go into a meeting with Canham where he thought it would be somewhat confrontational, he would turn down his hearing aid. He claimed he didn't hear a word.

Newt was basically deaf in his left ear. The next time I watched a conversation between the two, I noticed how Newt would listen to Don with his right ear when wanted to listen and when the conversation went south, he turned his head and pretended to listen with his left ear.

After Canham retired, the three of us were at a dinner. I asked Canham, "Didn't you ever notice Newt turned down his hearing aid so he wouldn't hear you complain?"

Canham answered, "I knew all along what he was doing, but how could anyone really get mad at Newt Loken?"

Even when he pulled his favorite trick on the golf course, backing up the cart and having the beeping sound go off when you were in your backswing, no one could ever get mad at Newt.

There are so many stories to be told but the only thing one needs to know is that Newt Loken loved the University of Michigan and he loved life.

The next time I visit New Orleans, I will make a point to walk to the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse just to remember a truly wonderful man.