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James Helminiak 02/13/2024

Jim was born on April 11, 1939 in Chicago IL, to Thaddeus and Anna Helminiak. He attended Weber Catholic high school and won the state championship in football and was voted outstanding player of the year.  He went on to Indiana University on a full football scholarship.  After one year he joined the Army, became a paratrooper, and was stationed in Germany.  While in Germany he was quickly recruited by his division’s Major General to play football in their European League.  This experience enabled him to tour all of Germany, and during leave time, other countries.  

Post military he returned to Indiana University where he continued to play football and earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Health, Safety and Physical Education and a minor in English.  He met his wife Nancy during this time, was married and earned his masters degree.  His first teaching experience was at the high school in Indiana.  Continuing his love of football, he established the school’s first football team.

Three years later, in 1967,  Jim was able to complete his dream of teaching at the College level at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls where he remained until his retirement in 2001.  His achievements at UW-RF are numerous as he coached so many sports throughout his career – hockey, golf, football and skiing.  Coaching the girls Alpine racing team was a great experience along with his “Take a Kid” fishing program, and being voted “Instructor of the Year” by the Hiawatha association in 1977.  Applying his degree in health and safety he was also instrumental in the development of the local ambulance service with the aid of other colleagues.  

Jim was most proud of the creation of the “Techniques of Sports Fishing” class – the first class of its type to be offered at the university level.  Because of the classes success, other universities have now added Jim’s curriculum as a lifetime sport.  This class developed into a class fishing trip, the FNG (Friendly Northern Guides).

As part of the health program, Jim developed the Health Fair, an annual affair for elementary children for 18 years. Four to five thousand children per school year from 36 schools within a 100 mile radius attended each year.  

In 1993 Jim was awarded “Teacher of the Year” voted on by students only.

Jim’s hobbies included golf, hunting, racquetball, fishing, skiing, traveling, soaking up the sun in a comfy chair and enjoying family and friends visiting his cabin on Long Lake.

Survived by his wife Nancy; children Jim, Mark, Bridget and Brad; grandchildren Dylan, Max, Tyler, and Khaleesi; Great-Children Mia and Addison; and brother, Ted.  Preceded in death, his younger brother Phillip and mother Anna and father Thaddeus.

Jim’s funeral service was held on Thursday, February 22, 2024 at 11:00AM at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church (211 E Division Street) in River Falls, Wisconsin with visitation beginning at 10:00AM.   Interment was in Greenwood Cemetery, River Falls, Wisconsin.

Click here to watch a recording of Jim’s service.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be directed to

Arrangements are with Bakken-Young Funeral & Cremation Services.


  • Jerry D. Cravens Posted February 14, 2024 3:10 pm

    Helminiak Family, I am so sorry for the loss of Coach Helminiak. I was in the first graduating class of Edgewood. (1965). He always had a great sense of humor, and we had a ball in the dramatics class. He was always firm but fair. I cannot believe it has been 59 years My wife Sally and I will keep the family in our prayers.

  • Carole Mottaz Posted February 14, 2024 3:53 pm

    I had Jim for classes at UWRF and kept in contact with him or Nancy over the years. What a character! I’m sad to think he’s no longer with us.

  • John Sheldon Posted February 14, 2024 5:22 pm

    Many fond memories of Coach I played for him at Edgewood High School. Wonderful experience!Great teacher!

  • John and Ginny Cahalan Posted February 15, 2024 8:55 am

    Coach Helminiak set us up for the homecoming dance in 1968! We have been married for 54 years! RIP coach!.

  • Thomas Brown Posted February 15, 2024 2:08 pm

    I had him for several classes. He was one of my all time favorite teachers. He was fair, honest, and a joy to be around. I later had the opportunity to have him speak( teach) my fourth grade class. He loved being with people. I have thought about him often. Rest in peace.

  • Daryl D Herrick Posted February 15, 2024 2:41 pm

    Coach Helminiak was my position coach as a freshmen and thereafter. He was an excellent teacher. He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed life to the fullest. Prayers to the family.

    • Steve Farley Posted February 16, 2024 11:41 pm

      My family is so sad to hear of Jim’s passing. What a wonderful life he lived. An amazing athlete, a great coach, a wonderful teacher, a loving family man. He touched so many lives- he always had an encouraging word for you and his smile and warm greeting were bigger than life. Jim and Nancy treated me, my wife and my daughters like family and we feel so blessed to have spent many quality days at their cabin on Long Lake. We will always be grateful. we send our heartfelt condolences to Nancy and the kids. Miss you Coach H!

  • Janet Curry Posted February 15, 2024 3:16 pm

    I’m so very sad of the passing of one of my favorite people. Have not seen him for years but was always in my thoughts and memories. He taught me so much in drama class and it was always so much fun. RIP

  • Dana “Rumple” Posted February 15, 2024 5:04 pm

    I’m so sad to hear this.
    He was a very cool, great teacher. I had him for speech.
    His wife was very sweet and nice.
    Condolences to his family.

  • Heidi Locke Posted February 16, 2024 3:49 am

    He bought my parents house in RF when we moved to Oregon.

  • Jim and Twyla Kleven Posted February 16, 2024 5:42 am

    Twyla and I would like to express our deepest condolences. Jim touched our whole families lived in so many ways. Personally I will miss all the times fishing(he usually outfished me), golfing (he always won) all of the years he helped out at the marina hauling boats. I remember him walking the sidelines at most of my son tanners football games from 7th grade on. He never sat down. He said he had never sat for a football game and was not going to start now. He even wrote up a scouting report on Tanner.

    When ever I think of one of his many stories it will always make me smile.

    I’m sure he is catching a ‘grand slam” everyday now!

    RIP Jim

  • Jim Carow Posted February 16, 2024 8:17 am

    To the Helminiak family,

    Coach Helminiak was the first coach I met at my first football practice at UWRF in 1968. When I later became a football coach, there was a lot of Coach Helminiak in what I did. He was a wonderful man.

  • Joni and Kevin Herum Posted February 16, 2024 9:43 am

    We have nothing but great memories of Jim from our years at UWRF! He was an inspiration as a teacher and a coach! He’ll be remembered as one of the best and will be missed by all! Our sincere sympathy to Nancy and the Helminiak family.

  • Bill Nelson Posted February 16, 2024 10:10 am

    Coach Helminiak….My coach, my confidant, my life long friend ! I first met Jim & Nancy when they came to River Falls in, I believe, 1967.
    He was my coach at UWRF for three years, 1967-1969, but our relationship and friendship continued as their family grew over time.
    My thoughts and prayers are with Nancy, Jimmy, Mark, Brad & Bridget. I know Jim is gone, but no one can ever take away the memories we share. God Bless and rest in peace my friend.

  • Bruce and Merrily Kleven Posted February 16, 2024 1:19 pm

    I enjoyed it when he worked with us at the marina on Long Lake. But, mostly, I enjoyed sharing a cocktail with Jim. He was right! The 4th martini is the best!

    We will miss him around Long Lake.

  • Brenda sinone Posted February 16, 2024 6:37 pm

    My deepest condolences to the entire Helminiak family. I have so many fond memories of Jim as my college professor along with the connections with Nancy and Mark through the years. ❤️. It is a blessing to have shared a lifetime of love and joy. Thinking of you all.

  • Lisa Farley Posted February 16, 2024 10:31 pm

    Nancy and family- sending our love and sympathy from Indiana. Mr. H touched many lives between coaching, teaching, fishing and friendships. Our family is lucky to have been part of all of those facets- the best being friends. He will be missed. Thinking of you all.

  • Hannah Farley Posted February 16, 2024 10:34 pm

    Some of my favorite memories growing up include hanging at the “Helminiak Cabin” with the family. Mrs, Helminiak – you and Mr. Helminiak took such good care of my sister and I and made us feel so special. You’re both the best people and I’ll always remember Mr. Helminiak fondly. Whether we were fishing, boating, tubing, looking for salamanders, playing ping pong, or watching movies at night – we ALWAYS had a great time thanks to you guys. Sending big hugs and lots of love to the entire family. I’m so sorry.

  • Rollie Hall Posted February 16, 2024 11:18 pm

    He was my college advisor way back when, and the fact that he got me through just proves how good he was! Appreciated his interest he had in his students both in and outside the classroom. Made me laugh all the time, which we all need to do. RIP

  • Katie Manor Posted February 17, 2024 10:56 am

    Love and prayers to the Helminiak family. Jim was truly one of the best and made my years at UWRF so memorable. He was not just my teacher, but a great friend. He was even at my wedding. Jim was a wonderful man who will be greatly missed by everyone that had the honor of knowing him.
    May he rest in peace.

  • Clint Ronnestrand Posted February 17, 2024 1:05 pm

    Sorry to hear coach passed away. What a great coach, teacher, mentor he was. I will never forget him or how much I enjoyed playing for him and being in his classroom.

  • ralph may Posted February 17, 2024 3:27 pm

    What a great friend we have lost. I was blessed to call him my teacher, coach and lifelong friend.
    ralph may Edgewood high school 1965

  • Jim & Pam Cernohous Posted February 17, 2024 4:42 pm

    Hugs and prayers to the Helminiak Family. Jim taught a fishing class at UWRF and ask Jim to be a guide for the fishing weekend at Long Lake, we ended up buying a cabin on Long eighth around the corner from Helminiak’s, many fun times and lots of fishing stories, wonderful memories❤️RIP Coach, will miss you🙏❤️❤️🤗

  • Diane Maier Evenson Posted February 17, 2024 7:41 pm

    What a memorable Coach and teacher! Worked in the PE department as a student and always enjoyed knowing him and his family as they grew up. My love and hugs to u all!!!♥️

  • Chris Reckinger Posted February 18, 2024 9:42 pm

    May Jim rest in peace. He was the most engaging college professor I ever had… he got to know all of us, was so hilarious & you were going to learn CPR in his class no matter what! Later, as a teacher, it was a highlight to see him escorting his grandchildren to their classrooms in Hudson.

  • Arthur Pelullo Posted February 19, 2024 12:24 am

    I read all the comments from all the people who knew coach. They were beautiful, Coach was a great guy. He was the first person I met when I went to River Falls to visit the school with my mom and dad. We’ve been friends ever since that day. Coach and Nancy came to my wedding in Philadelphia when Barbara and I were married in 1980. He was an exceptional man who made everybody feel important. I’m not sure if he realized how much he meant to everybody he touched. Nancy, my mom and dad often talked about you and coach when you visit us in Philly.. God bless Coach love you always Artie

  • Patrick J Magee Posted February 19, 2024 4:00 am

    Will always remember Jim’s positivity and how fun he was to be around. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Nancy & kids. RIP JIM!

  • Sally Solum-Thoen Posted February 19, 2024 8:22 am

    Sorry for your loss. Jim and Nancy lived across the street from us on hazel street. Jim we make a ice rink every winter and we played hockey and skated alot. We had a great time.

  • Warren Kinzel Posted February 19, 2024 1:20 pm

    So SORRY to the Helminiak Family ( Nancy-Jim-Mark-Bridget-Brad) Remember Him well as I was on the staff with him for 28 years. Lots of Good memories and I mean GOOD! Never heard him speak negative about anyone ever-always on the positive. He helped me Professionally with hints on how to Teach. We hit the slopes together to downhill skii–we hunted, fished and taught together. In the 28 years that I knew Jim and his family never a day went by went by that I did not learn something. He loved his Family and spoke of them often and was so proud of his Children. I like many others will MISS him and his Teachings!

  • Reid Tschumperlin Posted February 19, 2024 2:51 pm

    Coach Helminiak started each class with “Questions, comments, relative information…” I still today start each day with my 5th grade class with his phrase! I also started a yearly health fair at my school that was modeled after his at UWRF. Coach Helminiak had such an unbelievably positive influence on me!!!!

  • Lana May Posted February 19, 2024 4:24 pm

    Jim was a truly special man and such a good friend. Nancy is just the sweetest and our weeks with mark have been a treasure. The whole family is incredible. I was a senior when Jim started the football team. What an exciting time for all of us. He will be missed.

  • Tom Carroll Posted February 20, 2024 10:31 am

    Nancy, Jim, Mark, Bridget Brad –
    Coach taught me so many great things about the game of football, but more importantly he taught me so much about life and how to live a good life!
    My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  • Brigitte Sames- Feia Posted February 20, 2024 10:58 pm

    I am praying God’s comfort upon your entire family. Jim was a great man. So sorry to hear of your loss. I remember the first time I met him and all of you. I was a child visiting you from Chicago. I came with my and your Uncle Phil, his wife at the time, Dorothy, and our cousins Phil and Noelle. I thought Wisconsin was so beautiful and never imagined I would one day live up here. I have now been in Hudson for 33 years! Amazing! Jim was a terrific husband, father, grandfather, coach and more. I send my love and prayers and support to all of you! Bridget…as we texted the night Jim passed….”He is in a better place!” To that…. I can say with certainty….YES…. Jim is in a better place! And I will add…. to God be the glory!
    Love to all of you!
    Brigitte Sames-Feia
    Hudson, WI (formerly Chicago)

  • Jessica Woeste Posted February 21, 2024 10:10 am

    I am so sorry Helminiak’s. My deepest condolences. I wish I could be there to celebrate Jim’s life tomorrow. I’ll be there in spirit and will be thinking of you all 🙏

  • Chris Helixon Posted February 21, 2024 11:01 am

    Thinking of you and your family, Mark.

  • Jim Thies Posted February 21, 2024 11:20 am

    My condolences to all of Jim’s loved ones! Jim was one of the first individuals I met when I started work at UWRF in 1976. He welcomed me to the campus and told me if I needed anything to let him know. If I ever needed a pick-me-up I’d go and talk with Jim. He always made my day better! RIP Jim.

  • Marci Greisen Posted February 21, 2024 8:03 pm

    Our sympathy to your family in the loss of a great man. Mr Helminiak was one of the best instructors I had at UWRF. His stories were so vivid! When I met my now-husband during my junior year, he just RAVED about the sport fishing class! Mr H was adored and esteemed by so many on campus!

  • James Kuchta Posted February 22, 2024 7:46 am

    Sending sympathy and prayers to the family & friends of Coach Helminiak. He was one of the most inspirational teachers for so many students and athletes. Talking with UW-RF Alumni from the 80’s we regarded Coach H. as one of the very best teachers and loved him as a coach. His legacy lives on through us from our days in River Falls. RIP Coach Helminiak

  • MCPO Mark Helling, USN-Ret. Posted February 22, 2024 6:17 pm

    I coached the UW-River Falls women’s hockey club team in 1981-1982 with Jim and Mark officiating all of our home games and as a student at UW-River Falls I was part of his First Aid Class while reminding us that we were to render first aid if ever needed. Fifty years later I still carry a compete first aid kit in our cars, vans, trucks, boat and in the field. When in pre-deployment training at FT BRAGG, first aid coursework came easy as I already learned it from Jim. From one veteran to another; Fair Winds and Following Seas…

  • Michelle DuToit (Wood) Posted February 27, 2024 9:38 pm

    I am so sorry for the loss of your father, husband.
    I had him for a professor for several classes. He was so humble and honest. He made a big impact on my life. Had a great time on my senior year sport fishing class. Peace to your family.

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