Thursday, February 2, 2023

Undying Spirit

Retired U employee recalls past, continues to display pride, service to university

October 12, 2001
East Lansing resident Fred Kletke, 83, has had season tickets for MSU football for more than 40 years. He has worked in various positions in the stadium for more than 60 years. ?I?m proud to be an employee of MSU. And if you live in the area, you have to be proud of the green and white,? he said. —

More than 60 years later, the 83-year-old still works in the stadium, which has grown to seat more than 72,000. Kletke oversees about 22 ushers on the stadium’s west side.

Although he retired as supervisor of MSU’s Salvage Yard, which is now the MSU Surplus Store, in 1978, his dedication to MSU has never wavered - he still plans to be at Saturday’s Homecoming football game despite undergoing foot surgery a week ago.

“I will be there with the good Lord willing,” the East Lansing resident said. “My life is wrapped around MSU.

“Nobody knows how much I care for this place.”

A look at Kletke’s connections to MSU offers evidence of how deeply he cares, and how much the university has changed.

Besides working in the stadium and salvage yard, Kletke has provided services for departments across the university while working for University Stores, ranging from delivering mail to offices, moving furniture into residence halls and transporting diplomas for graduation in his own truck.

“I had to guard them all, so no one would take them,” he said. “There wasn’t a thing I didn’t do or volunteer to do.”

And Kletke said he’s made quite a few friends over the years, including John Lewis, director of University Services.

Lewis said he worked with Kletke for about six years in the 1970s.

“Certainly his pride showed in his pride for the job, he did an outstanding job for the university in terms of running our salvage operations,” Lewis said.

And Lewis said some of Kletke’s greatest contributions were based on sharing his Spartan spirit.

“At this time of the year he was really dedicated to helping students by supplying wood for the bonfire,” he said.

Sometime in the late 1950s, when a group of students approached Kletke looking for wood to use for the annual Homecoming bonfire, he told them he would take care of the whole project. He gave them all the old telephone poles, pallets and other scraps he could find.

“We had a fire that burnt all night long,” Kletke said. “From then on, I lit that bonfire every year.”

The bonfires, which were held on Munn field and where the tennis courts are now, were discontinued after participation began waning and other activities began to take its place, Kletke said.

But Kletke still fondly remembers Homecoming activities of years past, including an annual game of tug-of-war between classes across the width of the Red Cedar River.

“We still have spirit, but it’s not like the old spirit,” he said. “I miss the good old days, but we have to forget and live for today.”

Jake Jacobson, an MSU hockey player from 1963 to 1967, said he remembers the spirit Kletke had when he rented a place in his basement.

Kletke has welcomed several football and hockey players to stay in his home.

“I always called him dad,” said Jacobson, now a 57-year-old resident of Haslett. “He’s always been a friend to the athletes, and he’s always trying to help you out a bit here and there.

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“And he’s been through everything in Spartan history.”

Kletke has adjusted to seeing the campus erupt with new buildings and paying about $40 instead of $1 in the 1930s for football and hockey tickets - he’s had season tickets for both sports for nearly 40 years.

But there are a few things he won’t change.

He said he will never move from his home, which is off Harrison Avenue, he won’t give up his 50-yard line football seats, and he won’t get rid of his Spartan hat, which he proudly wears to every game.

“We made them and sold them for $2 a piece to fraternities and sororities,” he said. “This is the only one still around.

“We’re both part of MSU, that hat and me.”

Nicole Jacques can be reached at jacques@msu.edu.

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