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Kathleen 'Tootsie' Gasparini, wife of former UND hockey coach, dies unexpectedly

Kathleen Gasparini died on Wednesday, Feb. 16. She was the wife of hockey head coach Gino Gasparini, who coached UND from 1978-1994.

Tootsie Gasparini
Tootsie Gasparini taught health classes for nearly 40 years in the Grand Forks schools. Gasparini died on Feb. 16.
Jackie Lorentz / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — The wife of a longtime UND hockey head coach has unexpectedly died.

Kathleen "Tootsie" Gasparini died on Wednesday, Feb. 16, UND Athletics announced Thursday. She was the wife of hockey head coach Gino Gasparini, who coached UND from 1978-1994.

“We are truly saddened today regarding the passing of Kathleen “Tootsie” Gasparini,” UND head hockey coach Brad Berry said in a statement. “Kathleen greatly impacted the lives of many people in Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota. The North Dakota Hockey family wants to express our deep gratitude and convey our thoughts and prayers to Gino Gasparini and his family at this time.”

Gasparini was known by many as “Tootsie.” She spent more than 40 years as a health teacher in Grand Forks Public Schools and frequently attended UND events, cheering on every athletic program. She was inducted into the Grand Forks Public Schools Teachers Hall of Fame in 2016.

Gino Gasparini led the university to three national championships in 1980, 1982 and 1987. He also had a runner-up finish in 1979 and a third-place finish in 1984. He is the winningest coach in program history.

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In honor of the Gasparinis’ legacies, several former student-athletes established an endowment in their names to support current student-athletes in the hockey program.

Peter Johnson, longtime spokesman for UND who now works for the UND foundation, said all four of his children had Gasparini as a teacher "and they uniformly said she was one of the best teachers they had growing up." She was also one of their favorite teachers, Johnson said.

"She was absolutely amazing," Johnson said. "As parents, we had every faith in her and we greatly appreciated the way in which she connected with and educated our students. We had great, great respect for her and we are deeply saddened."

On social media, people posted reactions to hearing about Gasparini’s death.

Wrote the UND Alumni Association & Foundation: “Tootsie, a 1970 UND grad, was the epitome of why we call our alumni ‘family.’ She was always so good to our organization; she and Gino have a 31-year history of giving to the UNDAAF.”

Cary Eades, a former assistant hockey coach and now president of hockey operations and general manager of the Fargo Force, wrote he was shocked and saddened by the news.

“‘Tootsie’ was a lifelong teacher (and) a mother figure to so many Sioux hockey players over the years. She was so genuine.”

Kaleb Johnson, a goalie for the Fighting Hawks and former Central High School student, posted that he remembered Gasparini as a loving person and teacher.

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“I remember walking into class in high school and seeing her as a (substitute teacher) would bring me instant joy and happiness making my day so much better.”

Her cause of death has not been announced.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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