St. Francis University buried one of its true legends last month.
The Rev. Bede Hines, T.O.R., passed away on Dec. 1 at the age of 92. A long-time English professor, cross country and track coach at St. Francis, where the running track at DeGol Field now bears his name, Father Bede made his similarly indelible impression on legions of student-athletes during his 70-year affiliation with St. Francis.
I was one of them, 30 years ago, when our lives intersected during my senior year at St. Francis.
Bede was the cross country coach when I participated on the school's then-club team in the fall of 1980. A few months later, I enrolled in his English composition course during the spring semester at St. Francis.
Bede was everybody's favorite teacher and coach, but not for reasons one might imagine. In the classroom and on the running course, he was a no-nonense, straight-shooting taskmaster who got his point across with an economy of words. But his candor always drew devoted admiration from those under his charge, even if it also triggered more than a few sheepish chuckles.
"Mean what you say, and say what you mean,'' one of my old college classmates recalled was one of Bede's favorite sayings.
And he always did just that.
One day after I skipped a cross country practice, I encountered Bede during a stroll across the campus commons.
"I guess you wonder why I missed practice yesterday,'' I said.
"No,'' was all he said, and kept on walking. Point taken, and I never missed another one.
Bede wasn't much for letting his athletes pat themselves on the back, either, and that was also a good thing. During an uncharacteristically sweltering early-spring day in March 1981, the St. Francis cross country team competed in a 10K (6.2-mile) race around Johnstown. The last part of the course involved a killer hill that made crossing the finishing line seem doubly rewarding.
I was part of a group of our runners celebrating that accomplishment in the finishing lane. But Bede wasn't very impressed.
"Get out of that lane, you're going to get trampled,'' he barked.
Bede had the same succinct advice for pre-race visits to Spanky's Bar - a long-time Loretto staple - where the runners of legal drinking age sometimes sought liquid or food refreshment.
"There's no future in it, before a race,'' he admonished us one day. "Just no future in it.''
A man of few but pointed words, Bede made his mark most by example. Even well into his 70's, his wiry, streamlined physique was a testament to his life of extraordinary personal self-discipline. Whether it was leading a group of alumni on a 5K (3.1-mile) run at sunrise during the school's annual Homecoming Weekend, climbing California's Mount Whitney at age 79, or winning three gold medals in swimming in the Masters Division of the Keystone State Games in his early 80's, Bede literally always walked the walk.
And ran the race.
He was among those rarest of individuals who made everybody who knew him, and cared to listen to him or observe him, a better person for the experience.
I was one of those people, and for that, I am thankful. And so, I'm certain, are thousands of others.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.