In memory – More than the average Joe

by Laurel Myers | February 28, 2013
Joe, Doug and Colin

A trio of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School track and field coaches, from left: Joe Bacon, Doug Gingrich and Colin Ward. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Joe Bacon expected a lot from his students and athletes. He expected them to be nothing short of excellent. He expected them to try their hardest and give it their all. He expected them to believe that nothing was impossible.

For a man with a never-ending smile, a joke always at the ready, an understanding approach and a kind heart, the students and athletes had no problem striving to meet those expectations.

Bacon passed away on Jan. 29 at the age of 63. He leaves behind his son Joe, daughter Liana, and grandson Hunter.

Bacon spent his entire teaching career at Lo-Ellen Park (LEP) Secondary School, where he blossomed as a track and field coach, working alongside his predecessor and mentor, Doug Gingrich.

“We developed a terrific coaching relationship that saw LEP become a dynasty which still continues to this day — a span of over 30 years,” Gingrich said. “Joe oversaw the girls and I the boys and together we built championship teams year after year.”

While Bacon and Gingrich devoted countless hours to making their athletes the best in the city, a lifelong friendship was in the works as well.

“Joe and I grew very close in our respect for each other and we bonded together as a very unique coaching duo — not only did we enjoy working together and with the kids, but we shared the same attitude that we were to help the kids be the best they could be.

“We never had an argument or said an unkind word to each other,” Gingrich added. “We were on the same page with passion for teaching, coaching, and being good human beings.”

After Gingrich retired, Bacon continued on as head coach of the track and field team. The protégé soon became the teacher when Colin Ward came on board with the Knights in 2005.

“I had a couple years with him and he was able to teach me how to coach the hurdles and the pole vault and basically run the team,” Ward said. “I shadowed him pretty intensely for a couple years.”

It wasn’t the knowledge or the skills that Bacon passed down that benefited Ward most as a coach. “It was the way he interacted with the kids, which is incredibly motivating and positive,” Ward said. “He knew how to get stuff out of kids in a very positive and gentle way because he cared and they knew it.”

Ward described Bacon as a “rock star” at Lo-Ellen.

“He was easily the most popular teacher I’ve ever seen in any school. Why did they like him? He was kind and he was always helpful … and he made everybody laugh just about every day.”

Even after Bacon retired, he couldn’t stay away from the track. He often returned to the school to assist Ward at practices for the next few years.

“Every city track and field meet he was always there,” Ward said. “He and Doug would sit in the stands and watch the competitions.”

‘The true Lo-Ellen Park Knight’

Meliisa Martikkala described her former teacher as a role model.

“He taught us how to strive for excellence; how to be a team player; how to be respected by showing positive sportsmanship; and most importantly, he taught us how to dream of greatness,” she wrote in a Book of Memories posted on the Lougheed Funeral Homes website. “Whether it was on the track, or on the court or in the halls, he would always be seen with a smile on his face. He was and will always be the true Lo-Ellen Park Knight.”

For Kari (Gravelle) Squarzolo, “Mr. Bacon was the teacher who had the ability to make you believe in yourself and help you work through math without viewing it with dread,” she wrote in the Book of Memories. “He was always approachable with his wonderful sense of humour, and was always there for all of his students.”

Former LEP athlete Ben Merwin, recalled how Bacon convinced him to join the track and field team.

“He was substitute teaching our Grade 9 math class and while we were supposed to be working on homework, he randomly challenged me to a race in the halls of Lo-Ellen Park, in his dress shoes and ‘let me win,’ all as a ruse to get me to join the hurdle/PV team. It worked, and with his help, I won NOSSA (pole vault) in my first year and went on to OFSAA all four years of high school.

“Thank you for your inspiration, motivation and nothing-is-impossible attitude you taught me and I’m sure many others,” Merwin added. “Thank you for everything.”

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