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Gary L. DeWeerd

June 22, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Every season, the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club gave awards to the players. Gary presents the 2000 Unsung Hero award to Suns player Shannon Carter on behalf of the fan club.
Submitted photo

The Hagerstown Suns lost one of their biggest fans earlier this month when Gary DeWeerd passed away.

“I’m telling you, everything was planned around the Suns’ schedule,” said youngest daughter Christina Curry of Hagerstown.

An officer in the United States Air Force, he moved around frequently for his job.

The family moved to Hagerstown in 1985, while Gary worked at Site R, also known as the Underground Pentagon, just outside Washington County in Pennsylvania. He then worked at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., retiring in 1991 as a captain after 24 years of service.

In retirement, Gary earned a master’s degree from Hood College and worked as a career counselor at Lincoln Intermediate Unit for the State of Pennsylvania, helping people on welfare find jobs. He retired in 2006 because of his failing memory, Teri said.

Gary got involved with the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club, and that connection was a big factor in the decision to put down roots in Hagerstown. He was president of the club from 1991 to 2009.

“He retired here and since we lived here the longest, we just stayed. He was really involved with the Suns then,” said wife Theresa “Teri” DeWeerd.

Gary was born and raised in Holland, Mich., the oldest of three children. He enlisted in the Air Force in December 1967, the year he graduated from high school.

His youngest sibling, Cindy Polinskey of Baldwin, Mich., said he was first stationed in Indiana and would hitchhike home on weekends so his mother could do his laundry.

“He liked grease and tires,” Cindy said, adding that Gary used to race at Martin’s Speedway in Michigan. 

“He was a nice brother. What I remember most is him racing his cars. When he was babysitting me, we’d go to his girlfriend’s house and I’d get to play with Barbies,” said Cindy, who is 10 years younger than Gary.

They had a brother who was between them in age.

“He was always my favorite. I looked up to him,” she said of Gary.

Cindy said he and his friends would let her hang out with them, despite the age difference. She remembers writing letters to him when he was overseas and has good memories of visits by Gary’s family to Michigan every summer.

He served in Thailand for a year during the Vietnam War, and was stationed around the country and was in such places as Germany, Korea and Panama for temporary duty assignments.

It was while Gary was stationed in Virginia that he met Teri, who was working at Langley Air Force Base and was crossing the street on the base.

Teri knew the man Gary was walking with and talked to him, receiving an invitation to the noncommissioned officer’s club.

“He called me a snob, because I didn’t acknowledge him,” Teri recalls of first meeting Gary.

Gary and Teri dated for about two years before they married on July 4, 1982. He was 32 and she was 27.

The date was chosen “so I’d always have fireworks, he said,” Teri said.

He was stationed in California then, so they went to Carson City, Nev., to get married and to gamble, Teri said.

Gary’s children from his first marriage, Tammy DeWeerd, who lives in Delaware, and Kurtis DeWeerd of Hagerstown, lived with them from age 7 to 18 and 4 to 12, respectively.

Christina was a year old when the family moved to Hagerstown in 1985. They began attending Suns games on a regular basis.

That changed when Gary learned they missed a visit by President George H. W. Bush to a Suns game in 1990. They were on their annual two-week summer vacation to visit Gary’s family in Michigan and Teri’s family in Kentucky.

“We were not allowed to miss any more games. Gary went to every home game through 2009,” Teri said.

After that, the family split the family visits, scheduling trips when the Suns were not playing at home.

“My best memories are family vacations. He had such a fun personality and was always joking around,” Christina said.

Gary would take off work when there was a day game during the week. The three years Gary commuted to the Pentagon, he often didn’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m., but not on game night.

“He managed,” Teri said.

“We hung out behind the Suns dugout, where he held court.”

Teri still has season tickets to home games, which they have had since 1991.

“I kind of had to (like the Suns). I grew up at the stadium. It was a fun thing to do with him,” Christina said.

Christina’s daughter Kaydence Custer, 4, gets in on the fun, going to the games occasionally with Nana and loves running the bases, chasing Woolie B and being a social butterfly like her grandfather.

Gary’s interest in baseball included a 750,000 baseball card collection and a room decorated with 25 signed team bats, jerseys and helmets. He was an assistant coach with American Little League for two years.

In the off season, Gary got interested in Hagerstown Community College basketball and served on the board of directors for the Hawks Booster Club.

“He was very persuasive in getting people involved with things,” Teri said.

The DeWeerds also were involved with Morris Frock American Legion Post 42. 

Gary was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006, but had been experiencing memory loss prior to that. When Christina got married in 2004, they had to write his one line on his hand so he could remember what to say.

Still, Gary remained a fixture at Memorial Stadium through the 2009 season, when he stepped down as president of the fan club.

“He’s more a social butterfly at the ballpark. He just wanted to make sure they stayed in town,” Teri said.

During his tenure as president, Gary came up with the idea of selling raffle tickets during the home games for bats autographed by the team, instead of doing bake sales and car washes.

It was a joint effort by the couple. Gary used to make snack bags for every player when they went on the road and also wrote a monthly newsletter.

The fan club paid for a local restaurant to provide dinner for the team when they had Saturday night home games, Teri said. The club hosted four picnics for the players and their families and the DeWeerds had the players over for cookouts at their Broadway home, half the team one night, the other half the next night.

“We had a good core group (of volunteers),” Teri said.

The DeWeerd’s front porch is a favorite gathering spot.

“He enjoyed sitting on the porch and thinking of new things to do for the Suns,” Teri said.

The fan club used to provide furniture and linens for the players who were renting apartments during the season, delivering the needed items in April and returning them to a storage unit in September.

“He got to know the players. He was over at the stadium a lot,” Christina said.

The group also caravaned to away games in Delmarva, North Carolina and West Virginia.

The family was told there was a moment of silence at the June 15 Suns game in honor of Gary. They were asked for a photograph of Gary that is to be hung at the stadium.

“He was always there to support the players in any way he could. He was an exceptional president. In so many of the fan’s minds, he was always president, even after the fact. We not only lost a big baseball fan, I lost a really good friend,” current Hagerstown Suns Fan Club President Judy Baker said in a phone interview.

Christina said her favorite memories are the summer trips they took to see family. She said the one year they decided not to make the family pilgrimages, they went to the beach, south of Virginia Beach and were there under threat of Hurricane Bob.

Gary was a disabled veteran, his health plaguing him for years. He suffered heart attacks when he was 34 and 41.

One of the heart attacks happened just as he pulled in the parking lot at the Pentagon. He also had diabetes and sleep apnea.

“He didn’t let it stop him,” Teri said. 

Teri was able to care for him at home, but in 2009, Gary started disappearing. A caregiver was hired in 2010 so Teri could continue to work as an administrative assistant at Fort Detrick. That worked until June 2010, when Gary went to a nursing home.

“He was very loving and generous. I think of how caring he was, not only to us children. We all had friends he’d take under his wing as a father figure,” Christina said.

“He had a good heart, a good sense of humor,” Teri said.

Editor’s note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered”  is about Gary L. DeWeerd, who died June 13 at the age of 64. His obituary was published in the June 15 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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