I met Joe, oh, maybe five years ago. I was driving in from Minnesota to meet some chums from my Penn days. Driving with layovers in places I could rest for a while. I wanted to see some more of the Country, especially West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. Lee and Traveler, his faithful horse, their final resting place.
I rolled into Philly and checked in at the Marriott Hotel, downtown. I threw my one bag on the bed and proceeded to head to the place that I knew best, The Class of 1923 hockey rink. It would be a tricky place to drive to if you did not know how. I certainly did. Spent years there chasing or stopping pucks on that ice sheet, my class being the first one to spend all four there.
I pulled into a place that said no parking. I parked and proceeded to enter the down stair entrance. The cold smell that greeted me was the same smell I remembered 42 years previous. I like sameness in life when it is a producer of good remembrances. Here there were many. They certainly lathered over those that were less commemorative. I went to the Plexiglas and looked out. Ice arenas have a certain home quality to me. They represent a game I loved and provided a sanctuary for many years. ‘1923’ creamed to the top of a long list.
Joe came about and we fell into a chat. He was the arena manager. As we talked I could not help but be drawn to his Jersey nature. This and the curb appeal the rink demonstrated. The ‘old lady’ was looking fine, something I was not expecting. Fact was she was looking better than fine. And Joe was the reason.
I found out he had been directly involved at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, where the Flyers displayed two Stanley Cup banners from the ceiling; Cups they had won while I was on campus at the University of Pennsylvania. He had come over a number of years later to Penn. Thankfully. He produced programs that continued the traditions of ice hockey at Penn while reaching out to Drexel University and several area clubs and high schools. He found a rhythm for ‘Her’ that had been lost when in a political game of kickball Div.1 hockey had been booted off campus. The ‘lady’ was turning a profit. This while the University kept a not so secrete desire to be rid of her and growing more grass. But Joe and many others would not let that happen. So with the drive that comes with dreams and hope, Joe demonstrated that ice hockey and skating still belonged on campus. And in West Philly.
You know how it is when someone sparks you. Joe entreated me to the atmosphere I remebered back when Penn was rocking the house and the Band was playing “The Red and the Blue:”
THE RED AND BLUE
Come all ye loyal classmates now
In hall and campus through,
Lift up your hearts and voices
For the Royal Red and Blue.
Fair Harvard has her crimson
Old Yale her colors too,
But for dear Pennsylvania
We wear the Red and Blue
Of course it was the chorus that we players chanted in hoarse voices while on those winning surges, when we felt we could beat anyone, especially B.U., which we did:
Hurrah, hurrah Pennsylvania!
Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!
Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah,
Hurrah for the Red and Blue!
Joe was not there then, but he could have been…. He epitomized everything good about Penn hockey and more. He knew how skating and hockey would be lessons, experiences, and memories for any Penn connection. By its Rink, Penn could reach out to the greater community; colleges, universities, high schools, clubs, kids that just want to skate, etc., meeting an active desire to be part of the Philadelphia experience. Joe went to work and made it thrive beyond what was considered. He did it the Philly way; tough, tender, sharing and caring. He took over the helm, steered clear of the icebergs and took many on wonderful journeys.
I was back two years ago and had to have some time with Joe. He brought me up to his office and we shared stories and he caught me up on what was going on and some of his vision. I attended willfully his voice. He sparked me again to where and what the ‘1923’ was and would be. Then he surprised me. He went to a closet and pulled out a jacket, one of those parkas that are water proof and have an inside liner which allows you to wear one or both. On the heart side was the logo for Penn. I was…thankful. We shook hands and he once again told me where I could park my car for the weekend, a place that only he could park, and I headed down to see which mates had arrived. I remember thinking of the Highball song that we used to sing at the Football games for some reason. It seems to fit now in a fashion of deep respect.
Joe died at his desk, two days ago, at the rink, after moving porpane tanks, chucking garbage bags into the outside container and various other ‘jobs’ that he always was doing. After climbing the steps, he placed the folders down that he had brought with him. They were never opened. He was found a time later. As he would have opened the folders almost immediately to task the never ending scheduling of ice time, job hours and job needs, it is speculated he died almost instantaneously. I am living with that.
To Joe, you were special:
“Drink a Highball at nightfall
Be good fellows while you may
For tomorrow may bring sorrow
So tonight, lets all be Gay!
Tell the story of Glory
Drink a highball And be jolly
Here’s a toast to dear old Penn!”
Here is a sincere toast to Joe Crowthers, a friend to Penn, Penn hockey and to anyone who met him.
In sympathy and God’s grace and love