by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Jonathan Beaudry knew he would not have a long life, although that was a secret he guarded fiercely.
The former Elk River football and basketball player who died in July at age 37 was always determined to live to the fullest. As a young adult, that included his passion for coaching AAU basketball with the same group of players for six seasons, kids he grew to love.
The past eight years, that meant making the best life he could for wife Michelle and two young daughters, Lillie, 7, and Addison, 2. Jon’s last coaching job was Lillie’s team in a St. John’s church program in Zimmerman.
“That first summer we dated, we went to a lot of graduations for his AAU players,” said Michelle. “And all these people, not just the kids but the parents, would talk about how wonderful Jon was. How he was a big part of the kids lives. When you are young and dating someone, like I was, you start to think, ‘Wow, who IS this guy?’ ”
A benefit for the family in slated for Sunday, Oct. 6, from 2 to 7 p.m., at Friendly Buffalo in Big Lake. Beaudry could not get life insurance due to his illness, said his father, Paul, and there were huge medical bills.
One of Beaudry’s AAU players, Jeff Bohlman, spoke at his funeral at Christ Church in Otsego. Several boys from a Zimmerman sixth-grade team he coached showed up at his house after his death to spruce up the yard for Michelle.
“Jon understood me better than any coach I’ve ever had,” said Bohlman, 26, who played sports at Sartell and football at St. John’s. “I’m pretty hard on myself, and Jon knew he didn’t have to be hard on me. My teammates, at the wake, we all said that: how well he understood us.”
Beaudry was diagnosed with Relapsing Polychonditis (RPC) right after college, and fought it for 14 years before succumbing. It’s a rare disease that attacks cartilage, in his case mainly the ears and trachea, affecting his breathing airway and leaving the bridge of his nose flat.
Michelle said things were fairly normal in their early years together, except that when he got sick, he would get “very sick, very fast.” What was a common cold for most people would mean a trip to an emergency room for them.
Beaudry died in his sleep early Sunday morning, July 21. The day before, he went to the county fair and said he felt fine. He called his brother Channing, who had just moved to Kentucky, and pledged to come down and fix a lock on his sliding glass door. Overnight, though, his stricken body finally gave out.
Beaudry had an emergency tracheotomy in December where he nearly died. After that he felt pretty good for a few months. Then, this summer, came a cellulitis attack in his legs that required hospitalization twice, and double pneumonia. When it got hot, he had more trouble breathing than usual.
“Jon never complained, but he said he was tired of being sick all the time,” said Paul. “We knew he wasn’t going to live long, but it happened quicker than we thought.”
After the tracheotomy, Beaudry did a lot of hugging and I-love-you’s with the kids, said his father.
“He knew he would not live a long life. He told me, ‘This is going to kill me.’ But he didn’t want to talk about it with his wife and kids, or anyone else. He’d always say he was OK. Michelle started going along to the doctor, though, and asked questions.”
Even close friends were “shocked” to finally find out how sick he was, said Michelle.
Asked how Beaudry handled it himself, Michelle said he was “terrified of dying, every time he got sick” until last December, when his spiritual life changed markedly.
“He became very certain where he was going and what God’s plan was for him. He was not scared of dying any more. What he was worried about was his family. That’s what he would talk to me about: What will I do.”
Lillie started second grade on Sept. 3 with a heavy heart, said Michelle, who had to stay home from work to help her through it.
“Lillie didn’t want to start second grade. She wanted to go back to kindergarten, because that’s when Dad was still well. When she started first grade he was sick, and now he’s gone.”
Beaudry was an on-site project manager for Van Man Construction, owned by Jack Holmes of Elk River. He supervised the construction or refurbishing of banks and churches. One of his favorite projects was building the Star Choice Bank in Bloomington for the Star-Tribune as its credit union. “He got to meet all big shots and sportswriters on that job,” said Paul. His last completed project was turning the First National Bank building into a church for the Elk River Lutheran congregation on Main Street. Remodeling jobs were tougher, said Paul, because the dust hampered his breathing.
Jon and Michelle, who married eight years ago, lived two houses down from his parents in Elk River. Michelle had bought that house before they met, which happened when she needed some help in the yard one day and the neighbors between them suggested that Jon come over.
Beaudry started coaching grade-school boys basketball in Zimmerman last winter. His sixth grade team won an MYAS state tournament, beating an Eden Prairie team in the finals in a close game. “I think that was the highlight of his coaching career,” said Paul, adding that his son always wanted to coach a high school team but knew his health prevented it.
A 1994 ERHS graduate, Beaudry was a good three-point shooter in basketball and played wide receiver in football.
While majoring in sports management at Bemidji State, he started coaching an AAU team of sixth-graders in St. Cloud as an internship project. He wound up staying with that group for six years.
The Bearcats, who went to high school in Sartell, St. Cloud Tech and St. Cloud Apollo, won a few weekend tournaments, and placed fourth in the AAU state tournament once. Beaudry’s style was fast and intense. The kids called it “Beaudry Ball.”
“I lived for the weekend,” said Bohlman.”Everyone involved in Beaudry Ball will tell you that playing for Jon was the most fun we’ve ever had.”
Beaudry is also survived by his mom Sharon and siblings Channing, Chase and Deanna.
Channing, a year younger, helped his brother coach the AAU team. They were best friends. Channing said whenever he moved, Jon would be there with his truck. When his car broke down, Jon would come help fix it. If a friend needed a house re-roofed, they would call Jon. “The void is not having a big brother around to tell me everything will be OK,” said Channing.
While he misses his brother every day he has “no regret” because the sibs always remembered to say they loved each other.
“He lived life to the fullest,” said Channing, “and while 37 years was too short, he made use of every day that God gave him.”
An AAU mother gave the revered coach her own tribute.
“I think that my Mom said it best,” said Bohlman. “She said, ‘Jon’s life was like a shooting star, not as long as you’d like, but beautiful and intense while it lasted.’ ”