Historically speaking

Karen Violetta Kunkel

Here is information obtained from Mining Journal staff writer Renee Prusi and an article written by Charles F Faber, Society for American Baseball Research

Karen Violetta, was born in Negaunee, Michigan in 1934, one of three children and the only daughter of Adolph and Fannie (Maki) Violetta. her paternal grandparents emigrated from Italy and her maternal grandparents were born in Finland.

Adolph’s father worked in the iron mines and also was a timberman. Adolph, worked as a janitor in the local hotel and later was the owner of Adolph’s gas station on Silver Street in Negaunee.

Karen was a professional athlete, a professor, an administrator, a movie advisor and a motivational speaker. She was a wife, mother and grandmother. She served as the onset advisor for the 1992 movie, A League Of Their Own, a sport comedy about a professional, all female baseball league in the midwest. Karen described herself as a tomboy and in 1949 she played softball for the Negaunee Merchants, a city team winning a U.P championship.

In the days before title IX, very few schools offered opportunities for girls to compete in sports. Marquette did offer a girl’s team so Karen went to play for, the “Marquette Indians.”

In 1951 that team won the Class C state title at Flint, defeating Athens 8-6. It was the first state softball championship ever won by a club from the Upper Peninsula. The following September the Marquette Indians won its second title defeating Bay City, 6-2. In this contest it was Karen

s three run homer in the sixth inning that won the game.

Karen graduated from Negaunee High School in 1952 and earned two degrees from Michigan State University. She got her master’s degree in physical education from MSU. In  1953, while at MSU she played in the NCAA lacrosse tournament. She skied on the men’s team and qualified for the NCAA meet but was not allowed to compete because she was female.

In 1976, she started the women’s national collegiate Athletics for Women. She served as a director of the AIAW championships as a member of the organizations National Ski board, and on the board of directors of the Midwest Collegiate Ski Association. In 1953, Karen finished second in the women’s downhill, in a meet in Cadillac Michigan and in 1955 she won the competition.

In between these two events she played baseball for the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League as a utility infielder in 1953-54. Karen was one of the founders of the AAGPBL Players Association.

Karen taught school at Pontiac Northern, Lansing Everett, and Ovid-Elsie, and coached boys sports in Cadillac Michigan. Kunkel went on to teach at Carlton College in Northfield Minnesota and Northern Michigan University.

In 1966, Karen came to NMU as a professor of health and physical education and coached the ski team. She was a strong advocate for women’s sports. Serving in many  capacities at NMU, she played a huge role in the establishment of the United States Olympic Education Center, serving as its administrator.

She founded and directed the first Michigan Great Lakes State Games and served on the committee for the building of the Superior Dome in Marquette. Last but not least Karen taught commercial truck driving for Lester Coggins Trucking Company.

“I think the state of women’s sports is the best it has ever been in history. I think the years have proven that women are interested in sports, they want to be part of a team.”  Karen Kunkel                  

Karen and her husband Jack were the parents of two sons, Scott and Kit.

Karen Violetta Kunkel died in 2017 at the age of 83.


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