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John Gruden

October 21, 2022 | 23 comments

John Gruden, 84 of La Crescent, passed away peacefully on Monday, October 17, 2022 at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

John was born in Mirna Pec, Yugoslavia (Slovenia) to John and Josephine Gruden on April 14, 1938.

John’s family came to the United States as displaced persons following WWII. The family lived in former concentration camps in Spittal and Lienz Austria for four years where his dad served as Camp Superintendent. The Immigration Act of 1949 allowed the family to come to the U.S. The family was scheduled to locate to Brazil, but with his dad’s position, they were redirected to Gilbert, Minnesota, where a family sponsored the Grudens. John was eleven when they arrived; he immediately was attracted to sports and theatre to help him work around the language barrier. He graduated from Gilbert High School in 1956 and Winona State University in 1960 with a major in Mathematics. Throughout his college years, he worked during the summer in the local iron ore mines and performed masonry work to pay for school. John initially taught math until he followed up with a Master’s degree in Guidance from Winona State while attending night school.

John was employed by the La Crosse School District for 35 years at Lincoln Jr High School as a Guidance Counselor. John’s passion was sports; followed closely by clothes and shoes. He loved to play golf, bowl and cards. John was also a Minnesota Viking fan; fortunately, Favre and Rodgers could keep him quiet. He also loved to referee football, basketball, and baseball games for all ages, throughout the Coulee Region. He was recognized for 50 years of service as an official. John ran the annual summer baseball league at Emerson field for several years. John touched 1000s of lives as both a counselor and referee; he thoroughly enjoyed impacting young people’s lives, promoting sports, and pointing them in a positive direction.

John’s pride and joy were his sons John and Steve; John was athletic and studious, while Steve was artistic and a free-spirit. John enjoyed parenting and guiding them to their long-term goals. John’s heart was broken when both sons died in early adulthood with promising careers.

John and Shan were married in 1983. They spent the majority of their married lives in La Crescent; with the later years living in La Crosse/Onalaska. Together they enjoyed traveling, walking, biking, reading, golfing and playing cards. They relished the opportunity to visit their children and grandchildren in Colorado and California. John and Shan were proud of their Catholic faith; it provided the spiritual foundation in their lives.

John is survived by his wife Shan; sisters Val Selleck and Mary (Bob) Hall; children Jody (Lynn) Fiedorowicz, Littleton, CO, Jena (Jeff) Lougee, Littleton, CO and Jeff (Teresa) Fiedorowicz, Carlsbad, CA; grandchildren Jesse, Jaime Fiedorowicz (Littleton) and Pier, Emma Fiedorowicz (Carlsbad); niece Angel Johnson (Britt, MN); and nephew Brad Hall (Aurora, MN).

Preceding John in death were his two beloved sons, John and Steve; his father John and Mother Josephine; Frank Gruden (brother); Anastasia, Breda, and Sanda Gruden (sisters).

Special thank you to Dr Beahm at Mayo Clinic for being such a thoughtful and caring physician.

A memorial service will be held at 11:00am Friday, November 11th, 2022 at The Gathering Place, 133 Mason St, Onalaska, WI. Visitation will be from 10:00am until time of service, with lunch immediately following at 12:00pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the “John Paul Gruden Memorial Scholarship”, c/o UWL Foundation, 615 East Avenue North, La Crosse, WI 54601 at; or a charity of your choice.

John – we will all have a final drink of Slivovicz to toast your life on earth, to a truly Good Guy Nostrovia!

Zadnjic Pozdraviti – The Last Goodby



  1. Laura Holstein

    Thank you Mr. Gruden for being an amazing guidance counselor. If anyone needed guidance it was me. I truly appreciated your kindness and your ability to think outside the box.
    You certainly earned your wings dealing with thousands of middle schoolers in the throes of puberty (what I consider the hardest time in a teens life), and you did it with kindness and a smile.
    Godspeed Mr. Gruden

  2. Mike Coady

    Back in the early 60s, Mr. Gruden was one of our first little league coaches down at Copeland Park. He was a good guy who cared about the kids and made sure the games were fun. He also did alot of umpiring and refereeing even into his later years. He was always enjoyable to talk to and would make you laugh with some of his officiating experiences. God bless Mr. Gruden and his family.

  3. Vickie Michalko

    My deep condolences to Mr. Gruden’s family. Mr. Gruden was my Guidance Counselor and my math tutor back in the 60’s. I remember him being very patient and kind. Nostrovia to You and your Family.
    God’s Blessings and Peace.

    • Gary Wiese

      John, a super nice person,truely a man of character.
      Remembering the amount of time & effort he put for in officiating when my sons where in sports at LaCrescent.
      He will be greatly missed!
      Neighbors on Hillcrest.

  4. Paula Rendler Bloom

    I’m so sorry. Mr. Gruden was loved and well liked by so many people. John and Shan were such good friends to my mom for so many years. And John, thank you.

    • Judy Steinmetz

      John it was a pleasure to know you! You and Shan made the greatest couple! You were an amazing example for the youth of the Coulee region.
      Judy Miller Steinmetz , Peshtigo and Cleveland, Ohio

  5. Jim Dolesy

    John and I officiated on the same football crew for a number of years and we were fortunate to work the Div 3 state championship in 08. It was cold that day and at halftime, John emptied his pockets of several dozen hand warmers he picked up on the field. A good man, who was living history with his stories of his childhood in the concentration camps. I will miss you.

  6. Jeff Koeller

    Shan – so sorry for your loss. I was fortunate to get to know John at the golf course. We always had an enjoyable day together. His smiling greeting was a great start to the day. There was never a dull moment with the “kidding” going on. He will be missed by all. RIP my friend!

  7. Jean seitz

    John, we had such fun as couples. We traveled with Sharon and Bob, Barb and Bruce, Ron and Jean with
    You and Shan. Heaven is blessed to have you organize
    Their sport activities. Prayers for both you and Shan .

  8. Joan and Jerry Guentz

    Fondly remembering all the shared good times over the years. Sharing a pot of coffee or going on an adventure, it didn’t matter. Each will remain in our memory. Joan and Jerry

  9. Mark W Bell

    Mr Gruden-

    The first baseball coach I ever had. Then my guidance counselor at Lincoln and friend from there on. Class man. Great coach of fundamentals both on the field and in life. Man of character. Great official. Friend. R.I.P. Mr Gruden. I’ll see you again some day…….you will be missed…….

    • Greg Voss

      Shan, Very sorry for your loss. Mr. Gruden reffed many basketball games I played in, always displaying such a positive and encouraging personality. He was always interested in our lives outside of sports.

      RIP, Mr Gruden

  10. Charles Linda Rudrud

    So sorry for your loss Shan. John was such a wonderful man and helped so many teens at Lincoln. Such an interesting life he had. Prayers, love, and hugs to you and the family. Linda and Chuck Rudrud


    I first met John as a fellow student/athlete at Winona State College in 1960. He was an outstanding Christian man who practiced what he taught. As a result, he became a wonderful role model for everyone who he touched through education, sports, community service, and friendships. We have been blessed to have known him and to have learned from him. Rest in peace, John.

  12. Jeff Fredricks

    The man who taught me how to hit a baseball. Very interesting person. It was educational hearing him tell his story.

    • Terry R Witzke

      Shan, sorry for your loss. I hope the condolences listed at this site are of comfort to you. John did make a difference in the lives of his friends, family and his students. I had the privilege of working with John as his teaching colleague at Logan Junior High School in the early 1960’s. I loved his dedication, his sense of humor and his passion for teaching.

  13. Anna Hockenbery

    John was such a nice, friendly and caring person. My father enjoyed many a cribbage game with John. He considered him a good friend. I am saddened to hear of his passing. Rest in peace John.

  14. Jenny Wuensch Whitman

    My sympathy to his family. He was a wonderful guidance counselor at Lincoln and so patient with me helping me with my math while I worked 4th hour in the office. Wish I had known about his interesting life before. Such a kind man. God bless.

  15. Todd D Eber

    I remember John as our guidance counselor at Lincoln back…well, back in the day. Even though we didn’t have regular contact, because of course I didn’t need guidance back then, he definitely made an indelible mark with his kindness. And whenever his NFL coach namesake was mentioned, I always thought of “our John” and wondered how he was doing. Thank you to those that shared your connection with John…makes me wish we had reconnected after we moved back to the area. Cheers to such an impactful life, John…rest in peace.

  16. Dan Rudrud

    Shan and Family,

    Condolences to all of you on the loss of John. I will never, ever forget those summers I got to spend with him at Emerson playing baseball!! Such a wonderful, positive, patient and encouraging man who made our summers so much better!

    RIP, Mr Gruden

  17. Rudy wuest

    Mr. Gruden was a favorite teacher of mine at Logan. He was looked up to as a teacher ,coach and a wonderful person you looked up to. He kept me in my place as I was growing up and taught me to be a kind person and competitive athlete in my years of growing up. God Bless You Mr. GRUDEN. JOHN 3:16.

  18. Sue Hammond

    Dear Shan,
    My husband and I had Mr. Gruden at Logan Jr. High and we both appreciated his kindness and dedication to teaching us math. We have so many memories of him at Logan and they those memories put smiles on our faces and in our hearts. Our sympathy to you and all who loved and knew him.

    Sincerely, Sue and Terry Hammond

  19. Mary Keefe barrett

    To Shan, and the rest of John’s family,

    I just learned of John’s death today. I am so sorry! John was such a kind, wonderful man, and I didn’t know so much about him, and his early life! He was such a blessing to so many people. I pray that God sends you extra grace, as you learn to live your lives without John in it. But I truly believe that you will be together again. God bless all of you.

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