He won the race of life and won it by open lengths. Secretariat-like, as a matter of fact. And what a journey it must have been.
Curtis Sampson, co-owner and longtime Canterbury Park Chairman, died peacefully at his Hector home Thursday. He was 87 years old and survived by his wife Marian, daughter Susan, sons Randall, Paul and Russ “The Big Wheel,” 11 grandchildren and eight great grand kids. Curt lived his entire life in Hector. Marian was by his side at death, holding his hand until the final breath.
This vibrant, smart, kind, loving, giving man went from running around ball fields of rural
Minnesota in the ’50s to starting successful companies like C.S.I. and Hector Communications to purchasing a shuttered Canterbury Downs in 1994 with son Randy and St. Paul’s Dale Schenian. From there, as longtime Canterbury media-relations guru Jeff Maday puts it, “He and the Sampsons established a legacy of fun at Canterbury Park. A place to have fun, man. A place to bring your kids.”
Winning the race of life is arduous, unless you’re Curtis in 2012 at Dana Kiecker Field in Fairfax hurling fastballs to a town ball team in a game that counts. They hit some shots off his fastball, but he competed and had the time of his life. That was Curt in a nutshell — competing, laughing, loving, hugging and giving extravagantly that night and, honestly, all his life to make sure many received opportunity and had “fun, man.”
“Boss” would pitch for years to Twins greats at Twins Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers. Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven was a frequent attendee at the camp and was very close to Curtis.
“What a loving, giving man,” Bert told me the afternoon Curtis died. “He paid for every member of his family who wanted to go. Family was everything to him. I’ll never forget the year Curt was like 82 and he was pitching to his grandson Joe, who was the catcher. Curtis was so proud.”
Employees and/or fans of Canterbury Park should be “proud” to have known Curtis Sampson or if you never met him recognize there is no Canterbury Park without Curtis, who also bred and raced horses for decades, and they were winners of some of our biggest races and for years dominated Festival of Champions Day.
Son Randy, Canterbury’s President, informed me of Curt’s death via text at 2:28 p.m. this awful, heartbreaking Thursday: “Curt is gone, brother. The race is over. I’m off to Hector.”
My response: “As you grieve on your drive home, brother, know he won that race by a million lengths. What a great man. Love you guys.”
If Heaven is the Winner’s Circle following the race of life Curtis Sampson is smiling in that win photo, and we all are better people for knowing him.
May God rest your soul, beloved boss.
As you would call me,