youth sports volunteer, Class of 1969 | #sports | #elderly | #seniors
DOVER – When Steve Towne died on April 22 from a head injury sustained while playing basketball, Dover lost a respected and treasured citizen.
A 1969 graduate of Dover High School, Towne’s sudden death came as a shock to many. He was a fixture in the city’s downtown during his daily walks, a big, smiling man with his distinctive gait.
“Townie” was 69.
A reserve member of the high school’s 1968 Class L state championship basketball team, Townie went on to exceptionally serve Dover in many volunteer capacities, specifically to benefit the city’s youth, for approximately 50 years.
“He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete and person, especially a person,” said Greg Kageleiry, Townie’s high school basketball coach.
“His legacy is he made a difference,” said Dover Recreation Director Gary Bannon. “A life well lived.”
Townie started as a volunteer umpire while still in high school for Dover South Side Little League. Later, he became a coach and league official, playing a key role in the construction of Maglaras Park off Henry Law Avenue. The league ceased operation in 2011. He also coached and officiated youth basketball for the Dover Recreation Department for many years, and served as a board member for Dover Youth Football. In recent years, he helped to organize and run the over-50 men’s basketball league in the city.
Obituary:Stephen Pierce Towne (Aug. 1. 1951 to April 22, 2021)
He also was a longtime certified New Hampshire basketball official with IAABO Board 32. Townie was inducted into the Dover Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 as a contributor, while he also received the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Carl Lundholm Award for his dedication to youth athletics.
“Throughout time, he’s been a steady influence to give high quality recreation experience for people of all ages,” Bannon said. “That was the thing, if he was involved, it was going to be done right.”
For years, noted Ernie Clark, a 1970 Dover High School grad and the current high school girls hoop coach, Townie worked during the week as an insurance underwriter in Hartford, Connecticut. But on Fridays he would return to Dover so he’d be available to coach kids during Saturday morning basketball at the old Butterfield Gym.
Basketball was a passion.
Townie was also a fixture at Dover High School boys and girls basketball games, rarely missing a home game. Over the years, Townie was seated in the same seat in the front row at old Ollie Adams Gym on the left near the door as you entered the gym with other well-known Dover sports luminaries like Ike Isaacson, Owen McKenney, Burton Tuttle and Bob Snow.
Townie was the first big man off the bench for the 1968 state championship basketball team.
“He never hurt us,” Kageleiry said. “He was a big, strong kid. He could shoot. He led the team in foul-shooting percentage. He had a nice little jump shot from the foul line.”
Childhood and high school friend and teammate Jim Parks recalls Townie’s demeanor during those high school days.
“Steve was always the gentleman,” said Parks, who lives in Sanford, Maine. “The figure you could always depend on for being stoic and mature.”
Parks said a point of emphasis for Coach Kageleiry was poise.
“You’ve got to maintain your poise,” Parks said. “No one did that better than Steve.”
One thing that Kageleiry stressed that resonated with Townie was not to give up the baseline. He’d put his foot on the baseline and didn’t let his man drive by him. “He was famous for that,” Kageleiry said. “‘You don’t get by me on the baseline. You might as well stay where you are.’ We’d kid him about that.”
Townie was well known for his fadeaway jumper.
“He had this like a Moses Malone fadeaway jumper,” said 1976 Dover High School grad, Carl Roche. “He brought the ball way down low to his knees. He would fade from the block and almost out of bounds. I was four or five inches taller. He would bump me just to get me off-balance, and then he would do this fadeaway jumper. It was effective.”
“I couldn’t stop that,” Parks said. “He practiced it all the time. He used it in high school and the adult leagues.”
Parks fondly recalls their childhood days playing Dover South Side Little League baseball for Herb’s Market in the early 1960s.
“Steve and John Dillon were like men compared to us little guys,” he said. “Steve would hit these towering home runs up at Mount Pleasant (Park) on Court Street. Steve and John Dillon, we used to be in awe of them.”
Stories abound about Townie, particularly how selfless he was.
First and foremost, he lived on Court Street in Dover where he cared for his older disabled brother, Robert.
A long-standing tradition for the Towne brothers was a Friday night seafood meal at the Weathervane Restaurant on the Old Dover Road.
Waitress Keerstin Harrington said it was a struggle to get Robert into the restaurant, but Townie was undeterred. “He’d call the restaurant and ask to be let in the front door,” she said. “He was so caring with his brother. It brought a smile to our faces. It was so cute. They were the cutest brothers. Like two peas in a pod.”
They sat in the same seats at the same table and ordered the same meals. Bay scallops for Steve. Chicken tenders for Robert. Diet Coke for both of them.
Townie was predeceased by another older brother, Dick, one of Dover’s great football stars. He played at Syracuse University, but died young in an automobile accident.
His good friend, Mike St. Pierre, who has lived the past 36 years in Granby, Connecticut, can personally speak to Townie’s selflessness.
The two became good friends in high school and both went on to attend the University of New Hampshire. St. Pierre’s family was not well off financially and Townie, sensing this, drove his good friend to school for classes three days a week for the four years they were in school.
That was 10 miles out of Townie’s way per day of school because he lived on Dover’s south side and St. Pierre lived on the north side of the city. Here’s where it crosses into serious friendship. It wasn’t uncommon for St. Pierre to have a class at 8 a.m., while Townie’s first class might not start until 10. “He’d drive me over for my class and then wait around two hours for his class,” St. Pierre said.
Or some semesters, St. Pierre might have a class that ended at 5 p.m., while Townie’s class was done at 2 or 3. “He’d wait all afternoon and give me a ride home,” St. Pierre said. “Anyone more reliable than Steve Towne, I have never met them in my life.”
Parks owes Townie a debt of gratitude as well. “I’ll never forget the example he set for a young, struggling teenager who was trying to identify himself with sports and all of the above,” he said. “Having Steve next to me was like a guiding influence.”
Chip Kelly was a star on Dover’s 1977 Class L state championship hoop squad. He recalls spending much of his time in the Butterfield Gym as a kid. “Steve worked and played at the rec center,” Kelly said. “Steve and I played for hours. We played a free throw game called 21. We did it for hours on end.”
Kelly visited Townie the day he died, offering positive thoughts on their past times together. “I said, ‘All those games we played at the free-throw line, I think when you come right down to it you pretty much have to agree, I was a much better foul shooter than you,’” Kelly said.
Townie’s left leg twitched, and his eyes started moving under his lids and his blood pressure went up a couple of points. “I started laughing,” Kelly said. “You understood that one, didn’t you?’ Clearly, I wasn’t a better free-throw shooter than him.”
Kageleiry also visited Townie at the hospital. “We always say if you’re going to go, go the way you want to,” he said. “And he was playing basketball. He absolutely loved the game.”
As much as he loved to play, and Townie loved to play basketball, he got even more enjoyment out of teaching the game to kids. “The biggest thing was his patience and his approach,” Clark said. “He was never aggressive.”
One can only guess at the amount of young athletes he mentored over the years in baseball and basketball.
Townie was also quick to volunteer his services to referee youth basketball games. “There wasn’t a tournament that Townie didn’t volunteer his time,” Clark said. “He would always be there with his gear if someone failed to show. He would fill in. He was always giving his time.”
Bannon seconded that. “He jumped in reffing basketball for years with different programs or tournaments,” he said. “Wherever he was needed, he would step up and volunteer.”
Townie’s demeanor on the court as Bannon recalled was pretty straightforward. “He took his role very seriously,” Bannon said. “When he called a foul it was a foul. It was non-negotiable. You knew you were going to get called on it.
“Coaches would get upset,” Bannon added. “He wouldn’t get upset. He let it roll. He knew that’s his job. People aren’t going to agree with you all the time.”
Many remember Townie for his many years of selfless volunteering, and the positive way he carried himself.
“He’d come in with a smile on his face,” Bannon said of Townie in recent years when he appeared at the McConnell Center for pick-up games. “‘I’m here to play ball.’ Like a kid coming into the gym. Just coming in with the guys to play ball.”
“He always had a smile on his face,” said high school basketball teammate Kevin Cash. “You never saw him without a smile. Just a great guy.”
Clark can still picture Townie taking a walk to downtown Dover from his Court Street home. “He had an unmistakable stride,” Clark said. “He always had his Yankees’ hat on the top of his head. That hat always looked like it was brand new.”
Occasionally someone would challenge Townie because he was a Yankees fan in Red Sox country. “Steve would just smile back proudly, undeterred, with hardly a comment,” Clark said. “And then just keep on walking.”
Steve Towne was his own man, a good guy, and a revered member of the Dover community.
“You talk about good people,” Jim Parks said. “He’s good people with capital letters.”