Patrick Suessmuth, a coach who inspired a generation of Erin kids to have fun, push their limits and believe in themselves, has passed away at the age of 75.
As the director of Erin Hoops and Main Place, Pat was a volunteer who devoted his time and money to provide low-cost recreation programs. He brought together a team of adult and youth helpers, creating an environment that built up friendships, skills and confidence.
“He was wonderfully cantankerous – a force of nature,” said Tania Crook, a Main Place board member who had helped him set up a recycling project, the Erin Freecycle website.
Visitation will be tonight (Wednesday), 7-9 pm, at the Butcher Family Funeral Home, 5399 Main St. S. in Erin. The memorial service will be at the same location on Thursday at 2 pm., followed by burial at Erin Union Cemetery next to his wife Marigold, and a reception at the Legion.
Pat died peacefully of natural causes at his farm on the Fourth Line. He had been sitting in his kitchen reading a book said friend Peter Smith, who went to check at the house last Wednesday, May 14 after Pat did not show up at Main Place on Monday and Tuesday.
“He was in good spirits on Saturday, up dancing to ABBA,” said Smith.
Pat got involved in local basketball in the mid-1990s helping Coach Brian Bissell at Erin District High School (EDHS) with the Senior Boys team. Steve Bergwerff, a player at that time and a now a Main Place board member, spoke with Pat about noon on Monday last week. Pat had phoned to thank him for helping promote an upcoming garage sale.
“He was always very appreciative of small things that others might take for granted,” said Bergwerff. “The community maybe did not fully appreciate all the things he was doing. It was never for profit. For him it was all about community. That’s what he lived and died for.”
An outpouring of commentary, including photos and video, can be accessed on various Facebook pages, including: In Memory of Coach Pat, Erin Events, Patrick Suessmuth and Remembering Coach Pat. Kids and adults gathered at an informal event last Friday night to share memories of him. He coached several EDHS teams, including the Junior Girls who won the 1998 CWOSSA championship.
Pat was also a member of the Town’s Recreation and Culture Committee, the Community Oriented Policing (COP) Committee and the Business Improvement Area (BIA). He was a leader in the Concerned Erin Citizens (CEC) group, a strong supporter of the Skate Park Fundraising Committee and an organizer of All-Candidates Nights during elections. His work was recognized with awards from Basketball Ontario and the Town of Erin, and a Paul Harris Award from the Rotary Foundation.
Erin Hoops and Main Place, registered as an Optimist Club, provided a small gym and games room. With the help of local service clubs, businesses, private donors and volunteers, it has delivered a variety of activities after school, on March Breaks and PA Days and on weekend afternoons, plus dances, movie and bingo nights.
More than 60 week-long summer camps are planned, on everything from archery and unicycling to drama and video production. There are basketball programs for young people and for adults (the pick-up Chump League), and a wooden skateboard ramp that doubles as a display of spray paint art. Information on the history of the group and current activity is at www.erinhoops.ca.
The future of Erin Hoops / Main Place is now uncertain, though many supporters have expressed an interest in keeping it going in some form. Erin Hoops originally operated at local schools, but later found a home at the old Erin Public School building.
Intended for redevelopment, it is owned by builder Gary Langen, who has allowed the group to use the site at a low rent. It is in now in poor condition, with a leaky roof, a mould problem and no running water.
Pat developed his basketball skills as a player at the University of Guelph. Later, living in Toronto, he ran a successful company, Cantra Training Ltd., and eventually published a series of books on industrial training methods.
“He was an avid reader and researcher,” said his cousin Yvonne who worked with him, travelling across Canada and the US running management training courses.
Pat and his wife Marigold moved to a farm on the Fourth Line of Erin Township in 1978 – she loved horses and always dreamed of living in the country. Unfortunately, she died in a car accident later that year.
Pat carried on as a trainer, but also as a farmer, raising livestock, selling eggs, keeping bees and growing vegetables organically. In 1982, he published a magazine article about crossing the threshold from being a “consumer” to being a “conservator”. Eventually, Erin Hoops provided a chance to combine his love of basketball and his experience as a trainer.
“He really had a huge family in Erin that kept him going,” said Marigold’s cousin Denise, who worked with him on the farm.
Another of Marigold’s cousins, Christine, said Erin was “lucky to have Pat donate such energy, enthusiasm and time to your teams. But he in turn needed you all, to enjoy his passions and make his life work meaningful. Thank you all for giving this to him, respecting his contribution, making him so happy and proud of the work he did.”