Tom Williams AT LARGE:
The dictionary defines a volunteer as “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.” It would have been simpler to just use a photo of Joe Fagan.
Fagan, who died last week after a difficult last year, wanted to take part, to make the world better. Very few people spent more of their free time helping causes than he did.
He got paid for a couple of those endeavors.
He worked for a couple decades as a baseball umpire at the youth and high school levels in Atlantic, Burlington and Cape May counties. Fagan moved from Burlington County to Ocean City in the 1970s. He worked for a credit agency, eventually buying the agency. He also invested in some real estate.
Another job that paid Fagan a few dollars was his work as a limousine driver. Many of his driving assignments were for the Miss America Pageant, which made him very happy. He was one of the organizers of a Miss America preliminary pageant in Burlington County and, after moving to the shore, served with the Miss Cape May County Pageant for decades. And he regularly attended and sometimes covered the pageant finals in Atlantic City.
Fagan was the public address announcer for the Ocean City Youth Athletic Association when he wasn’t coaching. He coached the Phillies to the OCYAA championship in 1995. He was also the announcer for the Ocean City Hawks and became an officer of the youth football league in which the team played. And he worked on the chain gang sideline crew at Ocean City High School’s home football games for a number of years.
After his divorce, Fagan joined a group called Parents Without Partners and became a driving force within the group, helping establish new social events and activities.
Fagan was always concerned for people’s feelings (with the possible exception of a baseball coach who was screaming at him) and one example took place on the Ocean City Music Pier when he was active with the county pageant.
One of his obligations was selling tickets and designing the seating arrangement. This was back in the day when seats in the Music Pier were free of charge to see the Boardwalk Pops orchestra on weeknights in the summer. Many of the regulars who came to the concerts sat in the same seats every night.
On this night, the pageant was set to start in about 30 minutes when an elderly woman took her seat in the third row. She did not have a ticket to the pageant but this was her seat, she sat in it every night. Fagan talked to her briefly, explaining that she needed a ticket, but got nowhere.
A meeting of pageant organizers was quickly arranged. One person suggested turning the problem over to Music Pier management. Another thought the police should be involved. Fagan finally said not to worry, he would take care of it.
He quickly found another chair and added it to the third row so that the necessary number of seats would be there to accommodate those who bought tickets and that woman could enjoy the pageant from her seat. He even brought her a complimentary orange drink during intermission.
If you played youth baseball or football in Ocean City, then Joe Fagan probably impacted your life. And he followed your progress throughout high school.
If you played high school football, he might have been the guy who determined if you got a first down. And he might have called you out on that breaking ball across the outside corner.
If you were part of Parents Without Partners or if somebody in your life was involved in the local pageants connected with the Miss America program, he was there, too.
In his final year, Fagan still had that big laugh and great sense of humor. He was pleased that the Philadelphia Eagles started the season with a soft schedule so that their rookie quarterback would have some time to settle in. And he was pleased that the Phillies did not lose 100 games and seemed to have players ready to provide a good future. When he saw a call in a TV game that he didn’t understand, he was still making phone calls to find out about the rule.
Joe Fagan lived his life to the fullest and chances are the way he lived it made your life a little better.
Words of wisdom: “Winning a championship is always nice but that is not why we coach in youth baseball. You work with these kids from the cold weather at the start of the pre-season practices, right through into the warm weather. Almost every team has a player who loves the game and loves being on a team with others his age. But that player just does not have natural abilities. He works hard at every practice, he’s never late and he encourages and applauds everybody. Then, one day, in a game about two-thirds of the way through the season, that player times a fast ball and lines a single into the opposite field. It’s his first hit of the season, maybe the first hit of his life. You look at him on first base and you see the happiest, most excited expression you’ve ever seen. That is why we coach youth baseball.” (Joe Fagan)