ELMHURST – About 800 members of the Elmhurst and York Community High School communities gathered Jan. 27 in York's Commons to honor one man: cross country coach Joe Newton.
Newton, who died Dec. 9, 2017, at his home in Arizona, taught and coached at York for 61 years, retiring at the age of 87 in 2016.
Several speakers called to mind Newton's character, influence and quips at the memorial celebration in his honor.
"He wasn't a leader of just kids. He was a leader of men," said Stan Reddel, a retired longtime York track and field coach who worked for Newton.
George Andrews, a former York cross county manager, said Newton was "the ultimate team guy." All the runners had nicknames, some of which "were certainly not [politically correct]," Andrews said.
"He made us all feel like we were part of a team and loved by him. ... I've been around great coaches in every sport ... but I've never seen a coach of his stature have time for the little guys on his team," he said.
Judge Ken Popejoy, who performed on the U.S. Olympic track team in 1972, and Al Janulis, a retired teacher, coach and athletic director, also spoke at the event.
DuPage County Board member Pete DiCianni, who ran cross country for York in the 1980s, introduced the scholarship fund that has been established in Newton's honor through the DuPage Foundation. The scholarship will be awarded annually in the amount of $2,500 to a York runner who has shown academic and athletic excellence and pursues a college education.
Newton's son Tom spoke and shared stories of his father toward the end of the event and said speaking at the memorial celebration was "just as hard" as burying his mom, whose funeral was earlier that day.
"Today's an extra-special day to be a Newton. My father used to call these 'forever moments.' And this is definitely one of them. And it's because of people like yourselves who have come out here to honor him, to respect him and let us know that you do," Tom said. "You didn't have to come here today, but I know that our family appreciates it. More than you'll ever know."
York Principal Erin DeLuga expressed her condolences to the Newton family for both losses.
"Your family's continually in the York family's thoughts and prayers. ... We all want to thank the Newton family for giving your father to us so selflessly for so many years. He will remain in our hearts long after today," DeLuga said.
York alumni who ran cross country under the coaching direction of Newton were among those who came to pay their respects.
"It was great to get to see my old teammates and remember Mr. Newton," said Capt. Jim Driscoll, who graduated from York in 1976 and the Naval Academy in 1981.
Mike Giannetto, a 2007 York alumnus who participated in cross country throughout high school, said the event was a "celebration of a legend."
"He's the person who taught me that if I love what I'm doing, I'll never work a day in my life," Giannetto said.
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