Malden’s ‘Man for All Seasons’ coached Malden youth for 35 years before his passing
By Steve Freker
Some were former players, others were fellow coaches and mentors and some were loved ones who were simply thrilled and touched by the spirit of the day. But everyone was there for the same reason: to remember and celebrate the life of one of Malden’s true “Unsung Heroes.” Well, following a recent gathering in April where a memorial stone was placed and a hearty meal was shared by way of a good, old-fashioned cookout, the guy dubbed “Malden’s Man for All Seasons,” the late Tom Heerter Sr., is “unsung” no more.
Thanks to efforts of a small but earnest group of former Malden Babe Ruth players and coaches and the backing of the Pine Banks Park Board of Trustees and Chairman C. Henry “Hank” Kezer, a hope became an idea, and the idea became a reality. Longtime Pine Banks Park staff member and present Superintendent Kevin Benner coached alongside and against Tom Heerter in multiple sports, primarily Babe Ruth baseball, with Heerter the boss of the Orioles in the West Division and Benner an assistant to the venerable Bob Rotondi in the East with the Knights.
Plans were made to honor Tom Heerter Sr.
After a few conversations with Phil Higgins, a former Oriole who revered his years with Heerter – one of many sharing the same sentiment – Benner started thinking of a way to honor Tom. Benner even asked yours truly what I thought and I was honored that he endorsed my suggestion to consider placing a memorial stone between the two beautiful baseball parks located in the youth sports complex Benner oversees. After receiving a magnanimous approval from the Pine Banks Board, Benner went into overdrive with a plan and enlisted the aid of first-year Forest Dale Cemetery Superintendent and Malden Tree Warden Chris Rosa to design an appropriate memorial. The final result is a fantastic memorial for Tom at Pine Banks that includes the stone, along with memorial trees planted alongside it in memory of Tom’s late children, Thomas Jr. and Christine.
Benner said Tom’s wife, Kay (O’Donnell) Heerter, was thrilled and proud of the whole concept of honoring her late husband – who passed away unexpectedly in 2015 at the age of 71 – but especially touched her late children were included in the memorial space.
Speakers aplenty recalled Tom on a misty April day
On the misty April day when Tom was honored, speakers aplenty recalled Tom’s unique persona with wit and vigor, replete with lots of anecdotes that brought a lot of smiles, laughter and applause, along with some tears, of course. The man was loved by many, including all of those in attendance, now scattered among three generations – going on four.
Mayor Gary Christenson marveled at the many, many lives touched and enhanced by their interactions with Tom Heerter.
Longtime former Malden Pop Warner Football Coach Alan Biscan was head coach of the team he led to the 2000 New England Championship and on to the National Playoffs in Florida, with Tom Heerter alongside him on the coaching staff. Biscan said there was no other coach he’d rather have had with him at the time.
Bob Rotondi has coached in Malden Babe Ruth Baseball for over 60 years now, nearly 30 of them with Tom Heerter. He wrote the inscription on the stone, which reads: “Thomas E. Heerter, 9-13-1943 to 6-29-2015, Malden’s Man For All Seasons, Baseball, Basketball, Football, Tom coached the youth of the city of Malden for over 35 seasons. He never marked his victories by his championships. Tom measured his success by seeing the accomplishments achieved by his athletes.” Rotondi spoke briefly and presented a special plaque to the Heerter Family, and it was received by Tom’s wife, Kay.
Former Malden City Councillor Marty Gately, a longtime family friend of the Heerter family, also extolled his late friend’s virtues. Finally, Pine Banks Supt. Benner spoke and said he was grateful and pleasantly surprised at the late turnout at the gathering.
Former Orioles players Phil Higgins and Chris Pagliccia pulled off the tarp and unveiled the stone as part of the ceremony, then everyone was allowed to take photos of the new memorial. An informal cookout was held right on the Pine Banks grounds afterward, where friends and family could reminisce and mingle.
“It was a great day and really nice way to honor Tom and contributions he made through his 35 years of coaching and mentoring all those Malden players and others.
“We miss him every day, and now we never have to say goodbye since he lives on with this very fitting memorial,” Benner added.
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