Elroy Fitzgerald would have been 84 years old on Thursday.
Even in the steamy weather, Fitzgerald likely would have been outside enjoying a baseball game somewhere. Perhaps even with his old-school, four-inch-thick, outside-the-shirt chest protector while calling balls and strikes.
That’s what Fitzgerald did. If there were an official position as McHenry County Sports Patriarch, Elroy would have held the position. No election would have been necessary.
Fitzgerald died at his Cary home on Jan. 13, so Thursday is an emotional day for the family of a man who was so instrumental for so many people in sports and education.
Fitzgerald’s four children have set up scholarships for two Cary-Grove students each year – one male and one female – for education and athletics. The applicants went through an interview process like those for other various scholarships.
Mickey Duncan and Tori White are the first recipients of the $500 scholarships this year.
“My dad always valued education and was on the school board for 29 years,” said Linda Sanfilippo, one of Fitzgerald’s four children. “He gave us the gift of working hard. He always said, ‘Don’t compete just to make yourself better than somebody else, but to make yourself better in life.’ ”
Fitzgerald worked as a tool-and-die maker, but was best known for his contributions to local athletics and American Legion Post 276. He served in the U.S. Army in Korea. As the father of three daughters, he also was a huge advocate for local girls sports, helping girls gain equal ground with the boys.
Fitzgerald was an athlete, coach and long-time official in football, basketball and baseball. More than 10 years ago, C-G named Elroy Fitzgerald Gymnasium in his honor, and shortly after he refereed an underclass game. How many refs can ever say they called a game in their own gym?
The Fitzgerald children – Linda, Debi Lechner, Theresa Miller and Elroy Jr. – have experienced the gamut of emotions while going through scrapbooks, newspaper clippings and correspondences at his house. Linda said a man from California, who also was in the Army in Korea and served close to her father, found him later and began writing back and forth.
Because to Elroy, no one was a stranger.
The family still is receiving letters from people conveying their thoughts on Fitzgerald’s passing.
“We want to thank people for their letters and thoughts,” Sanfilippo said.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the scholarship fund may do so at BMO Harris Bank on Main St. in Cary. Checks can be made payable to the Elroy Fitzgerald Sr. Scholarship Fund.
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.