Davey Stossel, RIP July 22, 1056 to February 2, 2022
… a class act whom we will always miss
All of us have hearts, but few of us have a “Heart of Gold.”
Dave Stossel was one of those who did — and it was the characteristic of him that I will never forget.
Dave’s heart gave out last week, but his spirit of kindness, generosity, and good will shall continue in the minds and hearts of so many.
Here is a small part of the narrative of his life.
The Lilly Raiders
I first met Dave when he was in sixth grade at St. Brigid’s School in Lilly, Pa. and I was a recent high school graduate. I was asked to coach the Lilly Raiders football team with a friend of mine for a few weeks — and with Dave, it lasted for three years.
During that time, Dave was a starting lineman on three teams that never lost a football game. He told me that those were the happiest years of his life and that he thought that he would have many more undefeated seasons.
The undefeated seasons did not come after that, but Dave was a winner throughout his life. He had a special personality and humility that everyone can remember, even though he was one tough codger on a football field for the Bishop Carroll Huskiesl.
The Bible, the rosary, and Alice Cooper
I will never forget my last conversation with Dave. I tried to call him regularly, and less than a week before he passed away, I managed to reach him. He said that he had gone to bed early that night, about 8:30, but that he had — and was enjoying — a good time.
Here is the line that caused me to laugh over and over again. When I asked him what he was doing, he said this,
I read my bible, said the rosary, and now I’m listening to Alice Cooper.
I said that those three were a strange combination. Dave laughed and said,
Sure, but God knows that I have always loved Alice Cooper.
That was the quintessential Dave. He never changed. He continued to love whom -- and what -- he loved.
Strong faith, wonderful family
Dave was challenged in so many ways, but he was also blessed with a great family that provided him with so much. His parents, Rudy and Julie, were wonderful people, and his strong Catholic roots emanated from them. From St. Brigid’s Church and School to Bishop Carroll, he was provided with a faith that sustained him throughout his life, one that was filled with impediments. He prayed daily, and for a good part of his life before his last illness, he attended daily mass at Out Lady of the Alleghenies Catholic Church, which is the successor to his childhood home of St. Brigid’s.
His sisters. Therese and Kathy, took great care of him throughout his life, particularly in his later years, and his brother Frank, who lived in Colorado, spent quality time with him throughout his life. They worked together for years.
Dave also had some beautiful nephews and a grand niece and nephews who loved him.
Dave also had a special uncle, John Orehowsky, with whom he lived for so many years. He told me how hard it was for him to watch as John struggled to hang on to life when he was in his 90s.
Family was such a special part os his life, and he constantly told me how grateful he was for everyone in his life.
Dave kicking an extra point for Bishop Carroll
Bearing struggles with grace and dignity
I thought of Dave as I read the book that has brought solace to so many people, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” This was written by Rabbi Harold Kushner, and he detailed how he struggled to accept the fact that his son suffered from progeria, a very rare premature aging disease that caused the boy to look like he was 70-years-old when he was just a teenager. And he died as a teenager, which devastated his father and mother.
Rabbi Kushner questioned why God would allow some people to undergo more than their share of pain and heartache. He helped me understand how to deal with those like Dave who are given an inordinate number of challenges in life that result in human suffering. Dave’s latest challenge was Parkinson’s Disease, but he had so many other setbacks in life.
For instance, Dave had two or three knee replacements. One of those went back to surgery that he had from high school football, but at a relatively young age, he had his first replacement. I thought back to the fact that I had a knee surgery in 1963, yet have not been forced to have such a replacement — and I am almost 75.
Why do some suffer more than others?
The Rabbi’s conclusion was simple. He was angry with God for a while over his son’s issues, and he even wanted to know if God was punishing him as a father.
His conclusion was this,
God created nature, and then he let it take its course.
Actually, this is a paraphrase. That is what I took from the book, and for me, it is what has remained with me.
In short, we have to accept the good with the bad.
Dave loved nature. His greatest joy as an adult was spending time fishing the beautiful streams of Central and Western Pennsylvania. But, while God created the beauty of nature, he also allowed it to provide us with serious challenges.
Nevertheless, what Rabbi Kushner concluded, and this was certainly true with Dave, God gave him the faith that allowed him to overcome all the obstacles that were placed in his life.
Dave and the “Raiders” — and his gift to me
Dave played for the Lilly Raiders for four or five years, but his love of the “Raiders” went beyond that. He actually rooted for the Oakland Raiders. Never quite sure where that came from, but in one discussion a few years ago, he said that he would like to read former player Jack Tatum’s book, “They Call Me Assassin.”
This was one book that was not on any of my shelves, or on my proverbial bucket list of reading, but I managed to find an older copy of it and send it to Dave. However, Dave reciprocated and sent me a copy of a book that I love and will treasure forever, a biography entitled “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” by Michael MacCambridge. I have read that cover to cover and portions of it very often.
Dave and his running back dream
I will conclude with a story that I often reminded Dave about over the years. Dave had worked very hard in sixth and seventh grades as a member of the Lilly Raiders. He toiled in the trenches as a guard and tackle, but at the end of his seventh grade season, he told me that he thought that he could be a good running back when he reached eighth grade.
However, the league had a proviso: Linemen could be no more than 140 pounds, and backs must weigh no more than 125.
So, after our regular season had ended, we had an exhibition game against Hollidaysburg Catholic at the War Memorial Field. That team was no doubt the best that I ever coached, but in this game, I decided to give Dave a chance to run the ball. He practiced that week as a backup tailback to Pat McCoy.
Then, in the game, indeed, he took a pitch the first time he touched the ball, and he then sprinted around the end and ran for a touchdown in the second half of that game.
We had found our running back for the next season.
Since I was attending Penn State at the time and living in University Park, I did not see Dave for a while. About eight months later, during the summer before his eighth grade season, I saw him at the War Memorial and realized that he was growing up into a man. Since running backs had to weigh no more than 125 pounds, I asked him how much he weighed.
Sheepishly, he said,
He knew exactly what that meant,
I guess that I will forever be a lineman.
Well, that was the case for the Lilly Raiders, but when he reached high school, his dream of playing running back materialized. He earned a starting spot as a sophomore, and he became a bull in Don Scotilla’s “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense.
I will miss you Dave
Like so many, Dave, I will miss you more than you will ever realize. I know that you were looking forward to getting together with the other Lilly Raiders this year since your health precluded your attending last year’s event.
Even though we were more than a thousand of miles apart in recent years, I treasured our talks on the phone and will miss them so much
However, your spirit will live on for us. If only the rest of the world had your disposition, your kindness, your humility, and your loving nature, we would all be so much better for it.
Your heart may have given out, but your Heart of Gold will remain with us forever.