A Bright Light Has Been Extinguished
I last saw Steve Gepp in October at the dedication of the gym at St. Joseph Grade School in the name of Sister Jean Spena who spent three decades there as a teacher and coach.
He was among those who came to honor a woman who worked across the parking lot from him for many years when he was the athletic director and basketball coach at St. Joseph High School which is now Donovan Catholic.
Gepp delivered a moving tribute to his longtime friend who coached many of the boys who would later play for him. He was his usual self, funny and serious often in the same sentence and we chatted for a few minutes afterwards.
As I often did I busted him about never winning the WOBM Christmas Classic although he did okay over a 35-year career, 30 of them at the school on Hooper Avenue. His teams won 485 games and the highlight came in 1981 when the Griffins captured their only state title. The high school gymnasium is appropriately named “Gepp Gym.”
Gepp meant more to the school then just wins and losses. He was admired and revered by his players, many of whom stayed in touch over the years, scheduled reunions when he could attend and played in “Golf with the Gepper,” an annual outing that raised money for the basketball program.
I emceed a few of those and more than anything looked forward to being in his company and listening to a “war story” or two. Some have likely forgotten that he was an outstanding player and athlete in his own right at St. Rose High School and later Villanova University.
Sitting near him on the bench was a treasure because you never knew what would come out his month. His off-the-cuff nicknames for players in the heat of the moment had many covering their faces so as not to laugh.
One of my favorite Gepp moments came when the WOBM Christmas Classic was played at Ocean County College. His team had been upset early and was relegated to playing in the loser’s bracket in the morning before a very sparse crowd. They were just going through the motions when he bellowed in that booming voice, “it’s like a morgue in here” which was heard by all in attendance, most of whom burst out in laughter including yours truly. He had timing like that of a great comedian.
Steve Gepp died Saturday just one day shy of his 88th birthday. What I wouldn’t give for just one more chance to sit with him and talk about the old days including those at Gepp’s Pub. I’ll join many others in saying goodbye on Friday from 4 p.m. -8 p.m. at Reilly Bonner Funeral Home in Belmar.
Funeral services are Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Church of St. Rose and in lieu of flowers donations to the Steve Gepp Memorial Scholarship can be sent to Donovan Catholic High School. While a bright light has been extinguished the “Gepper” was and always will be a legend.