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My encounter with ‘Minnesota Fats’

“I was 13 years old when I beat ‘Minnesota Fats,’ a traveling pool hustler whose real name was Rudolph Walter Wanderone Jr.”, said Myrvin Secord, former over-the-road trucker and avid bicyclist, who now resides in Melrose.     Secord estimates Fats must have been in his early 20s when he played pool with him. Fats would go from town to town in those days when transportation was just model T’s. He would pick out a pool hall and go in and shoot pool. People would play a game with him for 25 cents.     The year was 1940 when the two squared off.     “And 25 cents was big, big money in those days,” said Secord, who used to get something like 2 or 3 cents a line as a pinsetter at that pool hall/bowling alley. Myrvin and a friend of his played a lot of pool there. “We were good, and that’s how I beat Minnesota Fats four times and became a pool shark.” He added,  “I was a pool shark – I’m not any more.  My eyes aren’t good enough now.” Secord believes you can learn pool by just watching, but you have to have some instruction to learn how to control the cue ball.     “You try to have a straight-in shot on every shot, and you shoot accordingly. You put a different ‘english’ on the ball.”     That english can also be used in trick shots. And Myrvin knows them all. He also knows how to play defense, an often time overlooked part of the game.     “If I can’t make a shot and I know I can’t make it, I’ll make sure that the opposition can’t make it. You see, if you can’t make it, you don’t leave it.”     It is called “snookering,” he said.     “You can get the table back if you snooker them or something like that, and they have to call their shots and even if they hit it and make it in a different pocket, if they hit it they will say they want such and such a pocket, and if they do that, in the process, then the next shot they’ll play so that they always look at least three shots ahead.  The real pool sharks will look at the whole table and know exactly what they are going to take, which color, the plain or the striped balls.”     Myrvin was born on April 21, 1927 in the St. Cloud Hospital. He had one brother. The family lived in Sherburne County at the time, and then moved to Ottawa.     He recalls living near a small lake, which must have been the site of a white sandpit. “My mom caught a big turtle on a cane pole and the turtle went down and the cane pole disappeared. After a while the pole came up and they had to cut the line and let the turtle go. Then they dropped a spike nail at the end of a ball of twine to test the depth, and it never did hit ground.”     When Myrvin was 18, on the 10th of April, 1945, he was one of eight who skipped school and went to Mankato and got sworn in to service. They shipped out four or five days later and went to Green Bay, Wisconsin base for training. They were supposed to be there for six weeks. “Because the war was really escalating, we graduated in four weeks and 10 of us men went to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.”     Secord continued, “After six months in Chapel Hill I shipped to Hennessey Air Field in Texas, and that was a Marine and Naval base. One of the things I remember about that was that it was in the sugar rationing days of World War II, and there was a lake nearby. Two or three boxcars of sugar came in and in one of the cars the door leaked and some of the sugar got wet, and the military made an island of sugar in the lake, getting rid of all of it.”     In another incident while stationed at Hennessey, there were boxcars of potatoes and dye was poured over them and they were fed to the hogs, so they could not be used for human consumption. “That’s why I say that in order to run this country, you should have to be 70 years or over, because they would know how to save money.”     While in service, Secord worked in the hospital. He remembers having to be on guard duty in Chapel Hill for a dangerous prisoner who was caught in Dallas, Texas. He never had a chance to go overseas because the war ended.     Secord was discharged from the Navy early (1946) because the war was over. It had been winding down while his company was in Boot Camp, and they joked that the Japanese heard that Company 299 (Myrv’s Company) was coming, so they surrendered.     Secord returned home and married his best friend’s sister. They had five children, and everyone said the marriage would never last, but out of eight couples that were friends, theirs was the only marriage that survived. Sadly, Mervin later lost his wife to cancer.     Bicycling is now a big part of Mervin’s life for both his mental and physical  health.     “To keep in shape, you’ve got to ride bicycle,” said Secord, who rode 36 straight days, 101 miles to 147.8 miles per day at one time. He uses a pedometer for speed, distance, total distance, average speed, the elevation and how many feet you gained in elevation, and temperature. He particularly likes to ride at night, using a powerful light on his bicycle. He rides all sorts of bicycles, and has for many years. His garage stores his collection, where once he used to park his semi.     Not all of his bicycle memories are good ones. There is one in particular that turned tragic. Secord already had 17,000 miles on his bike in February 2005, when he was hit by a car while biking in Sauk Centre. He broke his ankle, his leg above the ankle, his hip, four ribs, his nose, hand and . . . “I broke my watch,” he added lightly. He was paralyzed from the waist down, and was told he would never walk again.     On the way to visit Myrvin in the St. Cloud Hospital, his second wife, Jan, who was also an avid biker and loyal companion, died in a fatal car crash on I-94. Secord said the hardest thing he’s ever had to do was to go through losing his first wife and then his second.     After much careful maneuvering, Myrvin, who was badly hurt, was able to attend Jan’s funeral only through the kindness and hard work of a few special people, to whom he will always be grateful.     Secord is doing fine today. He believes in prolotherapy and a book named “Prolo your Pain Away.” He also favors ozone therapy. Myrvin Secord is an avid reader. He can often be found boning up on longevity and how to stay healthy. He is 83 now, and plans to live another 68 years!     Secord had no qualms about getting back on the bike after recovering from his injuries. Last year he rode 8,520 miles, the year before it was 8,448, and in 2006, 8,032, totaling 25,000 miles in three years.     “I always try to ride a little bit more, said Secord. “I had a quota the last years, of 9,000 miles and then I realized that ‘how am I going to make more than 9,000 the next year?” He added, “I didn’t plan this, but it came out to exactly, 25,000 miles.”     As for Minnesota Fats, he died on January 15, 1996. The Billiard Congress of America inducted Fats into its Hall of Fame for recognition of his contributions to bringing popularity to the game of pool.     Myrv Secord can still be found playing pool and instructing as he goes. He is always ready to take on anyone, in case you have a yen to play some pool?

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