Remembering Gerry Ramsberger, an utterly genuine man

Published May 9, 2013

Years from now, the question will be posed by someone too young to know better.

Shielding their eyes from a midday sun, they will see the name adorning the baseball and softball fields at Boca Ciega High School and ask who Gerry Ramsberger was.

Should I be nearby, I would suggest the youngster find a seat. For there is a story to tell, and it is too important to rush.

Gerry Ramsberger, who passed away Monday at 88, was a character in the best sense of the word. Wholesome, but never preachy. Wise, but down to earth. Sweet, corny, caring and accomplished. And to those who knew him, inordinately lovable.

This is a man who came ashore at Normandy days after the invasion, fought at the Battle of the Bulge and won a Bronze Star. He returned home to play football at Notre Dame, and eventually became a championship-winning coach in football and baseball at Boca Ciega. Ramsberger left the sidelines in the mid 1960s to supervise a jobs program for at-risk kids, and later resigned in solidarity with a teachers strike in Pinellas County.

For the next 30 years, he taught political science at the then-St. Petersburg Junior College, where students would stand in line for hours to sign up for his classes.

"I've had so many of his former players and students tell me, 'Your dad helped turn my life around,' " his son Tom, a circuit judge, said Wednesday. "Hearing that had an impact on me at the time, but looking back it seems even more important now. Think about what that means. The number of lives he touched. It's just magic.''

If you met him only once, you might call Ramsberger charming. If you got to know him well, the far more accurate description is he was an utterly genuine man.

To him, life was never a chore. It was meant to be relished and shared, as if more good times were only a bear hug away. It was almost comical to see his perplexed reaction when faced with someone selfish or rude. It wasn't that he was naive, he just couldn't understand why anyone would choose to behave that way.

"My dad used to say that no one has the secret to life, but I think he figured it out," Tom said. "He gave so much love in his life, it came back to him tenfold."

As the end grew near, the cards and emails began pouring into the home where Ramsberger and his late wife, Dot, raised their six children. He heard from players he coached, students he taught and neighborhood kids who secretly wished their families were as devoted as his.

"I told my dad, 'You could have all the money in the world, and it still wouldn't buy the memories you have or the cards these people are writing,' " his daughter Katie said. "He had always been our hero, and now I realize he had been a hero to a lot of other people."

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The ball fields at Boca Ciega were dedicated in his name last week, and Ramsberger watched the ceremony in a video from his bed. He had lived as complete a life as he could have hoped, he told his children, and now it was time for him to join their beloved mother. He passed away three days later.

So who was Gerry Ramsberger? Turns out, it's an easy question to answer.

He was one of the finest men I've ever known.