Jeff Schwartz has been taking a lot of drives lately on a street that is full of North Dakota State athletics excellence. It’s called Memory Lane.
The avenue extends for hundreds of miles. National titles. Conference titles. Coaches. Players. Late nights and early mornings. NCAA Division I transition. Since he joined the NDSU sports information staff in July of 1989, there’s been plenty to keep him busy.
Those busy nights are down to just a few remaining. Schwartz is retiring this month to a life more suited to family than the daily grind of athletics. And he’s not the only one at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, either.
Assistant to the athletic director Linda Gangelhoff and administrative assistant Nancy Erickson are also in their last week. For a department that has been a picture of stability with hardly anybody leaving for decades, a triple play of experience is retiring.
Also, a trifecta of dedication.
“Linda, I am biased, but she was my right arm for my six years here,” said athletic director Matt Larsen. “Incredibly loyal to NDSU.”
When Schwartz arrived from Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Ohio), the staff was still using typewriters. That was so long ago that a fax machine wasn’t even a thing. In 1989, the sports information staff was at Ceres Hall on campus, stuffed envelopes and mailed press releases every Monday.
He detailed five NCAA Division II women’s basketball national championships. He’s seen wrestling, softball and indoor track and field national titles. Everybody in the department has a hand in football national titles, both at the Division II and Division I FCS levels.
“It’s a hall of fame smorgasbord,” Schwartz said.
Speaking of, he’ll always have a role with the athletic department if he so chooses. He’s been a major player in the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame and those selections will only get tougher in the coming years.
“Jeff Schwartz is the historian of the athletic department,” Larsen said.
Schwartz said he’s a traditionalist and prefers a chronological order of selections. Good luck. Since Bison football began a Division I schedule in 2004, there have been more standout careers than anybody could have imagined. And that's just one sport.
Most other sports have made national dents also.
“I’ve been going down memory lane a lot,” Schwartz said. “There have been so many moments and people have asked me: What are your favorite moments? It might sound like a stock answer but it’s building relationships with student-athletes that has really stuck with me.”
All three are the behind-the-scenes types. If given the option, Gangelhoff and Erickson would prefer zero retirement attention. Answering questions rather than setting up interviews for athletes to answer questions has been almost new to Schwartz.
Gangelhoff started at NDSU in 1995 in the human resources department at Old Main, the NDSU administration building. It wasn’t long before she moved over to the athletic department at the urging of former women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” Gangelhoff said.
Except, perhaps, for the next several days.
“This is too much, this attention,” she said.
She plans on spending more time with family and friends. Same with Erickson, who began at NDSU in the fall of 1986. She’s seen the monumental growth from the small-town feel of the Division II days to the current business climate of Division I.
“I’ve never been assigned to a coach I didn’t get along with,” she said. “Every one of them has been so easy going. It’s been fun.”
She’s trading in athletics for more time with grandchildren in Minneapolis, New York and California. She and her husband Larry have a lake place near Park Rapids, Minn.
For Schwartz, his family at home starts with Cindy, his wife of 39 years. When Jeff was in his early years on the job, the late NDSU photographer Bob Nelson snapped an iconic shot of Schwartz’s toddler daughter, Lainey, running into his arms while he was orchestrating a brown bag luncheon.
She now lives in Taylorsville, N.C., and she and her boyfriend Josh are expecting a baby boy in September. The Schwartzes' son Chris and his wife, JC, live in Fargo. They have a 4-year-old daughter Cecilia and an eight-month old son Ezra.
Athletics is getting traded in for more family life for the grandfather.
“Cindy was raising kids while I was getting paid for watching sports,” Jeff said. “I’m forever indebted to her. The wives of coaches, sports information directors, athletic trainers … the commitment necessary to do the job is 24-7. I’m so grateful.”