Alumni surprise former coach
Richard Haldeman of Due West, an honorary alumnus who served for many years as public relations director at Erskine, contributed the following account of some grateful alumni who returned to their alma mater to honor their coach.
Sixty years ago this fall Harry Stille arrived at Erskine College to teach physical education and assist Gene Alexander with the baseball team. Alexander left for Wofford the following year, and Stille became head baseball coach in 1959, a position he was to hold through 1988, winning more than 400 games during his tenure.
On Thursday, Sept. 7, 10 members of Stille’s 1958 and 1959 baseball teams surprised Stille with a visit to Due West, where they and their old coach shared memories, laughs, tears, and lunch at the Renaissance senior living facility. Harry and his wife Reba, former Erskine nurse, recently moved to the Renaissance from their longtime home on Dogwood Drive in Due West.
The trip was organized by Whitey Adams of Rock Hill, a 1963 Erskine graduate whose humorous pranks became legend at the college and who originated the Erskine Open Golf Tournament at Erskine. Whitey had a distinguished career as a golf professional before retinitis pigmentosa left him legally blind. He continues to play golf with the help of his guide dog.
Other members of the 1958 and 1959 teams enjoying the visit with Coach Stille included Cecil Pruette ’61, Rock Hill; Charlie Thompson ’59, Seneca; Joe Lesesne ’59, Spartanburg; Robby English ’59, Duluth, Ga.; Mike Jordan ’62, Anderson; Red Jameson ’58, Abbeville; Buzzy Bowen ’60, Charleston; Mills Hodge ’59, West End, N.C.; and Andy Pugh ’59, Prosperity.
Former Erskine administrator Bill Lesesne ’61 was Due West coordinator of the event and brought Stille to the baseball field where he was surprised by his former players. As they sat in the dugout, the former players—now in their 70s and 80s—shared laughs over their experiences with Stille in his first years of coaching baseball and a freshman basketball team Adams called “the worst I ever played on.”
Adams, whose own graduation was delayed by his signing with the Milwaukee Braves and two years in professional baseball, then changed the tone of the conversation. He said that no experience in life could equal his “four years at Erskine College.” His comments drew unanimous assent, and another former player added, “If it hadn’t been for Erskine, none of my accomplishments would have been possible.”
Dr. Harry Stille retired as head of the physical education department in 1991, but he continues to train driver education teachers each summer at Erskine, where he recently completed his 60th year of teaching. All those years were at Erskine except one year at University of Alabama, where he completed his doctorate and served as assistant baseball coach. His post-retirement activities also included 12 years in the South Carolina legislature from 1991-2003.
Accompanying the players to Due West were Bo Youngblood, Whitey’s friend and driver; Karen Hodge Pruitt, Mills Hodge’s daughter and mother of Erskine graduate Anna Kate Pruitt ’09; and Nancy English, wife of Robbie English. At the Renaissance they were joined by Reba Stille and former Erskine classmates John Lay ’60, resident of the Renaissance; and Mary Parkinson Jenkins ’61 of Due West.
Whitey Adams had a special treat at the Renaissance, where he was able to visit with former Erskine alumni director Winnie Phillips ’41, who recruited him to Erskine College nearly 60 years ago.
Gathered in the Erskine dugout in photo at top are, left to right: front row, former players Cecil Pruette ’61, Charlie Thompson ’59, and Whitey Adams ’63, who organized the reunion; back row, Red Jameson ’58, Andy Pugh ’59, Buzzy Bowen ’60, Coach Stille, Robby English ’59, Mills Hodge ’59, and Mike Jordan ’62. Not pictured is Joe Lesesne ’59.