Donald J. Friday, 83, who was sports editor of the Stevens Point Journal for 40 years, died Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at Point Manor nursing home.
Don was born April 18, 1936, in Stevens Point to the late Henry and Henrietta Friday. He attended St. Peter’s grade school and graduated from P.J. Jacobs High School. He attended UW-Stevens Point and then UW-Madison, and was hired as the Journal sports editor with three months left in his senior year in 1959.
Don had rheumatic fever as a child, limiting his active participation in sports. Instead, he channeled his passion for sports into this work. For many years, he was mostly a one-man band, even as high schools and UW-Stevens Point expanded their sports offerings, especially to girls and women.
Unlike many in the profession, he never left his small-town paper, despite offers to do so. He loved his job and the community, to the point where the headline on his final “Day on Sports” Journal column in 1999 was, “There’s still no place like home.”
Don was a lifelong bachelor who was married to his job and loved every one of the untold hours he put in. For years, he maintained the typical sports editor schedule of early mornings writing and laying out the paper, followed by his daily coffee klatsch at the Cozy Kitchen, a nap and then late afternoons spent watching practices and interviewing coaches. Often, a nighttime game followed, with a late trip to the office to write the story.
His writing reflected an analytical eye but also a compassion borne out of his awareness that he was covering insecure teenagers and college athletes who did not receive scholarships.
For 20 years early in his career, he was the analyst alongside radio play-by-play man Bob Daniels on broadcasts of local games and the state basketball tournament, offering detailed between-period and halftime assessments off the top of his head because he was too busy keeping game statistics for his print story to take any notes for radio. He knew the pronunciation of every obscure Wisconsin hamlet from Muscoda to Rio because he understood that accuracy mattered.
Don enthusiastically got involved in numerous community projects. In the 1960s, he was instrumental in helping to revive American Legion baseball in Stevens Point, even serving as an assistant coach for many years. He was one of the driving forces in the effort that led to the city in 1987 becoming the first in Wisconsin to host the national Legion tournament. The local American Legion continues to hold the annual Don Friday Tournament each summer.
He was one of the co-founders nearly 50 years ago of the Community Parks Improvement Committee, which sponsors the annual Sentry Classic Basketball Tournament as its principal means of funding improvements. Its first project was the installation of lights in 1972 at the Bukolt Park baseball diamond. It also funded upgrades of the football and track facilities at Goerke Field, where the press box is now named after Don. The committee’s work continues to this day.
While working, he was president of the AP Sports Editors Association for three years, and in 1998 became the first recipient of the Tom Butler Media Award from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
At a dinner celebrating his retirement in 1999, UW-Stevens Point surprised him by presenting him with the bachelor’s degree he had nearly completed 40 years earlier.
After retirement from the Journal, he began writing stories for the Portage County Gazette about UWSP athletics. While covering a basketball game in February 2000, he suffered a stroke, and after being hospitalized, a second one. Those left him partly paralyzed and impaired his speech.
Through therapy, he was able to walk short distances with a cane and regained limited speech. His mind remained sharp and his ability to understand the nuances of sports was unencumbered, enabling him to enjoy his frequent attendance at games the rest of his life.
He was inducted into numerous halls of fame, including: Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association as a friend of basketball; Central Wisconsin Baseball; UW-Stevens Point Athletic; Stevens Point High School Athletic Hall; Wisconsin American Legion Baseball; and Pacelli Athletic.
He is survived by brothers Jim (Carol), of Eau Claire, and Bob (Rhonda), of Glendale, and one sister, Barb (Paul) Egge, of Lakeville, MN. He was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Tom; and sister, Sr. Miriam, SSJ.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Shuda Funeral Chapel in Stevens Point, and from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter Catholic Church. A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter Catholic Church.
Anyone wishing to make a memorial contribution in honor of Don may consider the Community Parks Improvement Committee, PO Box 589, Stevens Point, WI 54481.
The family would like to thank the staff members at Point Manor for their many years of care for -- and kidding around with -- Don.
Also, we cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to the innumerable friends who kept up Don’s spirits both in visits to Point Manor and in taking the time to chat with him at the many games and public functions he attended. In particular, Jack Porter and Jimmer Zblewski were selfless in attending to Don’s needs big and small. We know many others also sacrificed their time to Don’s benefit. We can’t name you all, but may God bless every one of you.