In Memory

Thomas Regner - Class Of 1963

Thomas Regner

Tom Regner, one of the best athletes to ever come out of Kenosha, died Thursday night, November 13th, at a hospital in Reno, Nev., from complications of diabetes.

He was 70.

Funeral arrangements are pending, according to Regner’s brother, Bob.

“Basically, his kidneys shut down and he passed,” Bob Regner said in a phone interview Friday night. “We all got to say our goodbyes to him (Thursday) before he really passed out and went into a coma, so that was nice.”

Tom Regner earned nine letters at St. Joseph High School by the time he graduated in 1963 — in football, track and basketball — and was the 1963 Holy Rosary Sports Night Athlete of the Year and a state shot put champion. He was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.

Regner rose to national prominence after receiving a football scholarship to Notre Dame to play under legendary coach Ara Parseghian.

Regner was the last player to start on both sides of the ball for the Fighting Irish, who went 25-3-2 in his three seasons (1964-66) as freshmen weren’t allowed to play under NCAA rules back then.

He began as a defensive tackle in 1964 — his sophomore year — then switched over full-time to offense and was a stalwart left guard in 1965-66, earning consensus All-America honors as a senior.

Notre Dame won the national championship in 1966 when it finished 9-0-1 — with the 10-10 tie coming in the famous “Game of the Century” at Michigan State.

Regner was among 70 players who returned to South Bend in 2006 for the 40-year anniversary celebration of the ’66 national championship. He was thrilled to see his image among those on banners inside Notre Dame Stadium commemorating the school’s football consensus All-Americans.

“That was a total surprise. It was quite an honor,” Regner said in a 2006 interview with the News. “They had a lot of things around the stadium about consensus All-Americans and having your name inside the stadium is a great honor. Something very, very special.”

Regner played for the College All-Stars in their exhibition game at Soldier Field in 1967 against Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.

A first-round pick of the Houston Oilers in 1967, Regner played 67 games over six seasons (1967-72) in the AFL-NFL before injuries cut his career short at age 29.

He lived and worked in Houston for few years after retirement before a job transfer landed him in Reno, where he had lived the last 30-plus years, Bob Regner said.

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11/20/14 12:19 PM #1    

Gregory Nelson (1965)

 This article originally appeared in the Kenosha News on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

KENOSHA — Fifty-five years later, Frank Matrise Sr. still vividly remembers the autumn day in 1959 that he and St. Joseph High School football coach Bob Carbone caught a glimpse of Thomas Eugene Regner.

“When he was a ninth-grader, we were up in the coaches’ office and it overlooked the field at St. Joe’s. The freshmen used to play their football games there when we first started because there was really no other place to go,” said Matrise, who coached the Lancers’ offensive and defensive lines from 1959-77 and later served as the school’s head football coach, then athletic director.

“We were watching (Regner), and the comment that came out of my mouth in talking to Bob Carbone, at the same time we said, ‘This kid has something special.’ You could see it already when he was a freshman in high school. That’s how good he was. He was a natural.”

Regner died Nov. 13 from complications of diabetes at a hospital in Reno, Nev. He was 70. He had lived in Reno for the last 30-plus years.

Regner played offensive and defensive tackle for the Lancers and garnered All-State recognition. Matrise called him “probably the best football player that ever played” at St. Joseph.

“He probably would have played guard for us (as Regner later did in college and the NFL) ... except he was big, strong and tough and of course in high school naturally you’re going to put him at the position that you need him the most, which was tackle,” Matrise said. “He had the speed and the savvy and the ability to block as a guard. We used to pull him from the tackle (position) to trap. That’s how good he was.”

A 1963 St. Joseph graduate, Regner also excelled in basketball and track and earned nine letters overall. He was a state shot put champion and a 1995 inductee into the school’s athletic hall of fame.

“He came from an outstanding family. His dad (Leon) was a tremendous supporter of St. Joe’s and did a lot of work to help,” Matrise said.

In 1960, when Tom was a sophomore, his brothers John (a senior) and Bob (a freshman) played for the Lancers, too.

“All of them were very, very good students and very good football players,” Matrise said.

“(Tom) also was a very popular individual. And I’ll tell you one other thing that was very unique about him: for the size (about 6-foot-1) he was playing in high school, he was as smooth as ever on a basketball floor. We used to be amazed at that because he just had the great footwork. Of course, he was able to pick up (everything) very quickly on football.”

It was Regner’s prowess on the football field that ultimately led to him receiving a scholarship to Notre Dame. Matrise said Regner also strongly considered attending Wisconsin and Michigan State.

In fact, in a 2006 interview with the News, Regner said he nearly became a Spartan.

“I thought I was going to end up at Michigan State,” he said. “Through the will of my father and a fella named Chuck Jaskwhich, I took a trip to Notre Dame and decided that’s where I was going to go.”

Michigan State’s loss proved to be Notre Dame’s monumental gain.

Regner’s first season playing for the Fighting Irish was as a sophomore in 1964 because NCAA rules at the time didn’t allow freshmen to play. That was also legendary coach Ara Parseghian’s first year in South Bend, Ind., after he came over from Northwestern.

With Regner starting at right defensive tackle and making 68 tackles, “The Era of Ara” got off to a fantastic start as Notre Dame finished 9-1 for its first winning season since 1958. A 20-17 loss at Southern California in the finale was the only thing preventing the Irish from a perfect season and a potential national championship.

Parseghian, 91, a College Football Hall of Famer who went 95-17-4 and won two national titles in 11 seasons (1964-74) at Notre Dame, said in a phone interview with the News on Monday night that Regner flashed his All-American potential right away.

“He had strength, he had speed, quickness and a natural ability for it,” Parseghian said. “Seemed to be innate and qualities you look for in athletes.”

In 1965, Parseghian switched Regner over to starter at left guard, although he also played some on defense that season because of injuries.

“What happens is you build your football team and you don’t want any great athletes sitting on the bench with you,” Parseghian said. “They’re great athletes and you find positions for them, and we had a need there and he was versatile and was able to play more than one position.”

It all came together for Regner and the Irish in his senior season of 1966 when they went 9-0-1 and captured their eighth national championship. Regner was named both a consensus All-American and College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American.

The most famous moment in the ’66 campaign was top-ranked Notre Dame’s 10-10 tie at No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 19 in the contest dubbed the “Game of the Century.” Regner had a photo of Parseghian presenting him the game ball, along with the ball itself, in a glass case at his home.

“That was one of the highlights. That really was an outstanding game,” Matrise said. “Bob Carbone and I both had the fortune of going to that game, and of course it was very unique and it was a hard-fought game by both teams. It was very meaningful obviously for Notre Dame because they ended up winning the national championship.”

The following week, the Irish pummeled USC, 51-0, and finished No. 1 in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls.

Asked to characterize Regner’s leadership style, Parseghian said, “I’d say he was ... more on the quiet side than a guy that’s jumping up and down and yelling. He led by example. He was such a great offensive lineman that he had the respect of everybody on the squad.”

So much so that Notre Dame’s rise back to national prominence after several losing seasons might not have occurred without Regner.

“He certainly was a part of that, a very important part of that,” Parseghian said. “He was a starter and an outstanding player. Of course, it takes 11 on the field at one time, but he was a vital part of it.”

Roger Valdiserri, who in the mid-1960s began his nearly 30-year career as Notre Dame’s sports information director, agreed that Regner played a vital role in the Irish’s reawakening. After all, the team went 25-3-2 in Regner’s three-year college career.

“No question because the offensive line was a big part of that comeback,” Valdiserri said. “That enabled us to have a great running game, and Ara thought that if you can’t run the ball you can’t pass it. So he was a great believer in the running game.”

However, Parseghian said it wouldn’t be fair to try to determine where Regner ranks among the all-time Notre Dame greats.

“You can’t rank an offensive guard with a quarterback or a defensive secondary guy,” he said. “(You need to compare) apples against apples. As an offensive lineman, he was outstanding. But we had more than just one outstanding lineman because we couldn’t have won it (with) just one.”

Bob Regner, 68, said his family and others in Kenosha took pride in Tom’s accomplishments at Notre Dame.

“I know he made my father proud. He made the guy that the (Indian Trail) football field’s named after, Chuck Jaskwhich, who played at Notre Dame, very proud. I know he made our two coaches — Coach Carbone and Coach Matrise — very proud,” Bob Regner said.

“One story I can tell you ... was that when he got down to Notre Dame they had players from all over. They had (future NFL players) Alan Page and Kevin Hardy, guys who were 6-7, 6-8 and here comes my little brother (6-1) and I think he was about 265 at the time and they said, ‘Why did they waste a scholarship on this kid?’ And he just went out and annihilated all of them.”

His on-field talents were only part of what made Regner special, though, according to Valdiserri.

“He had such a great disposition,” said Valdiserri, who also noted his academic success. “He was friendly and he was really liked and admired by his teammates. ... He was just very effective at his position. I know Ara just thought the world of him because he was such a great team player and a great member in the locker room. He was just a great, all-around person.”

In 1967, Regner became the ninth of 10 overall players who were either Kenosha natives or student-athletes at a Kenosha high school to play in the National Football League and/or American Football League. The Houston Oilers of the AFL drafted him in the first round (23rd overall) of that year’s combined NFL Draft as the leagues had announced in 1966 their plans to merge in 1970.

During the summer of ’67, Regner played for the College All-Stars in their 27-0 exhibition loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Injuries hampered Regner over his six-year career (1967-72) with Houston, in which he played in 67 games but started only 19. He was eventually forced to retire at age 29.

More than 40 years later, Bob Regner said his brother’s health began declining in recent months. When Parseghian heard about that, he picked up the phone.

“He just called Tom (about) a month ago and gave him a pep talk. I know Tom was very emotional about it,” Bob Regner said. “Ara Parseghian is one class act, that’s about all I can say.”

“I heard from some of the players and so I was trying to lift his spirits, and that’s why I called,” said Parseghian, who added that he had some nice talks with Regner at reunions over the years.

As word trickled out last week of his death, Regner’s teammates made sure their revered coach was kept in the loop.

“My computer lit up with players wiring me in that he passed on. He had the respect of the entire team, and they all wanted to make sure that I knew that he had passed,” Parseghian said.

“I knew he was in bad health, and I knew that things were pretty tough for him. As I was going through all the emails and so forth, it tells you the kind of respect he had from all of the teammates and most deservedly.”

Considering that Regner started playing for Parseghian 50 years ago, it’s easy to understand how the coach’s memories of certain games in which Regner excelled or conversations he had with him back then have admittedly faded over time.

But this much still sticks out in Parseghian’s mind regarding Regner.

“You would place him in the good guy category. A great player, good person and well liked by all,” Parseghian said.

11/23/14 11:33 PM #2    

Gregory Nelson (1965)

Thomas E. Regner

1944 - 2014

Thomas E. Regner passed away at Renown South Meadows Hospital in Reno, Nev., with his immediate family at his side on Nov. 13, 2014.

Tom was born in Kenosha, Wis., on April 19, 1944, to the late Dr. Leon and Helen Regner.

Tom attended St. James Elementary and St. Joseph High School. In high school he was active in sports and played basketball, football and track. In his Senior year he was captain of the basketball team and lettered in all three sports for four years.

Tom was offered a full scholarship to play football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and became a starting offensive guard, as well as becoming a Consensus and Academic All American. He was a starting left guard when they won the 1966 National Championship in which he was presented the game ball from Coach Ara Parseghian. Tom was a "Golden Domer" to his dying day and loved all his Teammates, Coaches, Staff and thought of them as family. He had the honor of being chosen to play in the College All Stars Game held in July 1967 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., against the Green Bay Packers.

During Toms last year at Notre Dame he married his high school sweetheart and favorite cheerleader, Shirley (Fox). As a 1st round draft choice into the NFL by the Houston Oilers, Tom and Shirley moved to Houston, Texas to raise their family.

After retiring from the NFL, Tom went on to own and operate a restaurant and moved to food sales and management with Glazier and Sysco Foods respectively. In 1984 the family moved to Reno, Nev., where Tom enjoyed fishing and the mountains. Once again back to work for SE Rykoff and than with Sysco Foods in Northern Nevada and California until his health forced him to retire.

Tom is survived by his widow Shirley, their terrific children, daughter Carol (Ted) of Reno, Nev., and son Dr. Kenneth Regner of Katy, Texas. Tom was thrilled to spend time with his four grandchildren; Chelsea and Michael McBride of Reno and Rachel and Ryan Regner of Katy, Texas.

Tom spent his summers growing up at Paddock Lake, Wis. There he enjoyed the fun and mischief with his three surviving brothers, Dr. John (Betty), Robert (Pat) and Richard (Sharon) who all reside in Kenosha, Wis. The four brothers had a special bond that could never be broken. Tom is also survived by Aunt Cecelia Regner, terrific family members, nieces, nephews and cousins.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Dr. Leon and Helen Regner, and his in-laws, Francis and Velma Fox.

The family would like to give a special thank you to the terrific doctors, nurses and staff that helped Tom along his journey. Tom received the Last Rites and requested that he be cremated. A private service will be held at a later date. In lieu of the family would like any donations be made to the  charity of your choice in his honor.

Tom not only will be truly missed by his family but also the great friends he made along the way!

Published online at on Nov. 23, 2014

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