June 22, 2013 7:24:25 PM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Minnesota Vikings head coach and Columbus native Leslie Frazier will be the keynote speaker Thursday at a dinner benefiting the annual Columbus senior citizens Thanksgiving luncheon.
The dinner will be held at 7 p.m. at the Trotter Convention Center in downtown Columbus.
Thanksgiving Luncheon host and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, a former teacher and coach at Lee High School, has known Frazier since the mid-70s. Frazier was a standout athlete and student at Lee High when Smith met him in 1975. Frazier played football, baseball and basketball at Lee.
Frazier still displays many of the same qualities as a successful NFL coach that he was noted for at Lee, Smith said, including a calm demeanor that belied a fierce competitiveness and a drive to succeed.
"Leslie was laid-back, mild-mannered," Smith said. "I don't know if Leslie ever had to go to the office for a disciplinary problem. He has always been a congenial individual and respectful. He was just the type student that any coach or teacher would like to have in the classroom. After he graduated from high school, I helped him get an athletic scholarship in football to Alcorn State University.
"He's been a hard worker all his life and an achiever. He's well deserving of where he is today. He's a family man and a Christian man. He's a first-class individual."
Frazier played for Alcorn State for four years before signing to the NFL's Chicago Bears as a free agent in 1981. He played there until 1985 when the team won its first and only Super Bowl.
Injuries ended his playing career, but Frazier remained involved in the game by starting the football program at Trinity College (now Trinity International University) in Deerfield, Ill., remaining as the school's coach for nearly a decade before joining the University of Illinois' football coaching staff in 1997. He also had coaching stints for the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts before joining the Vikings' coaching staff in 2007. He was named the franchise's head coach in January 2011. He led the team to the NFL playoffs this past season.
Smith said he and Frazier regularly keep in touch and Smith goes to a few Vikings games each season. In observing how players react to his coaching style, Smith said they "think the world of him and really appreciate him.
"He's a heck of a guy and very humble," Smith said. "He has dedicated his career to the sport of football and has received many honors and accolades. Coach Frazier is a man that exemplifies character, dignity and honor."
Thursday's event will include a banquet dinner, jazz music performed by local artist Simeon Weatherby and a silent auction. Items up for bid will include a football, jersey and cap signed by Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson.
General admission to Thursday's event is $50 per person or $350 per table that seats eight people. VIP admission is $75 individually and $600 per table. Those who purchase VIP tickets will have the opportunity to speak with Frazier at a meet-and-greet 30 minutes before the dinner begins.
Smith said the proceeds will benefit future Thanksgiving luncheons.
"Last year at our Thanksgiving senior citizens luncheon, we served over 1,000 people," Smith said. "It's a diverse group of senior citizens. We invite senior citizens from all over the city and the county. (The benefit) will be a way he can give back to the community where he grew up to some of the senior citizens who have known him from birth. These funds will be used just for that specific purpose."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.