Former EagleHerald Sports Editor
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Feb. 19, 2020 edition of the EagleHerald. The Menominee High School Hall of Fame 2020 induction ceremony was originally scheduled for May 2, 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19. The ceremony will now take place Oct. 23 at Embers 1871 in Peshtigo. Each week, the EagleHerald will highlight one inductee, beginning with Walter Niemann, class of 1913.
MENOMINEE—Sometimes the smallest person can make the biggest impact, and in the case of Walter Niemann, he proved that true time and time again.
At one point in his life, Niemann became the smallest starting center for Fielding H. Yost’s University of Michigan football team, but before that, he tore up the field as one of the smallest lineman for the Menominee Crimson (now Maroons) high schoolers.
A 1913 graduate of Menominee, Niemann had a successful athletic career and used that to attain an engineering degree from Michigan. He already has a spot in the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, and now after a ceremony at Embers 1871 on Oct. 23, he will be posthumously inducted in the Menominee High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Born on April 21, 1894, Niemann made the trip every day from Hermansville, Mich. where he lived, to Menominee High School, not the easiest trip considering this was between the years of 1909-1913 and transportation was not as available as it is today.
Niemann was an all-around athlete for the Crimson and Yost felt the best spot for him to continue his football career was on the offensive line at the center position, where he started every single game and never missed a minute during the 1915 and 1916 seasons. He still holds the record as the lightest starting center in University of Michigan history.
“You have to remember, this was back in the days when football was really played and won in the trenches,” Menominee historian Larry Ebsch said. “It usually three or four yards and the play was over, so at 150 pounds he was a real small guy and it’s not easy to make it that weight to the level he was able to get to.”
Two years after graduating with his engineering degree from Michigan (1918) in 1920, Niemann suited up for the Menominee North End Athletic Club—a team that just a year prior played the fledgling Green Bay Packers and was defeated 53-0.
In 1921, he played for the Lauerman Twins and helped them win a championship in the Upper Peninsula & Northeastern Wisconsin before finally getting the chance to suit up for the Packers themselves in 1922.
Niemann played in 22 games over three seasons (1922-1924) for the Packers including getting to start in the first ever Packers-Bears game when the Packers took on the then-Chicago Staleys and lost 20-0.
After his football days were done, Niemann worked at U.P. Machine & Engineering Co. in Powers, Mich., where he was widely recognized for inventing an orbital type engine he patented and developed.
“I wasn’t around for his playing days but I met him later on his life when I put him up for the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame and we became friends after that,” Ebsch said. “He was an astute businessman and all of his family and friends had nothing but good things to say about him. He was quite a guy.”
Niemann was inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame in 1974, and he will be the first of eight members inducted into the Class of 2020 Menominee Athletic Hall of Fame on October 23.