The Obit For Tom Epperly

Tom Epperly, passionate teacher and coach

The retired Guardian Angels teacher "just loved his students and their parents" and they loved him in return.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 15, 2009

The day before cancer claimed him, Tom Epperly, of West St. Paul, was where he was happiest: on the lake with his family.

One final fishing outing, against doctors' orders, came less than 24 hours before the athletic outdoors lover died Sunday. He was 59.

"I asked him if he was happy, and he said, 'Always,'" said his daughter, Colleen Morrissette, of St. Paul, who helped arrange the fishing trip. "I asked him if he was having a good time. He said, 'I'm in hog heaven.'"

Epperly, who played baseball for the University of Minnesota from 1967 to 1972 and also played in the Twins farm system, received the cancer diagnosis seven months ago. He received care at his alma mater, at the university's Masonic Cancer Center. His hospice bedding was maroon and gold.

After spending several seasons in the outfield, Epperly ultimately settled into a career in the classroom -- technically, the gym -- as a teacher.

Over the years, Epperly had a couple of stints away from teaching, but always went back. For the past 10 years, he had been a health and physical education teacher at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Chaska.

There, his daughter said, he continued his passion for sports as a coach and, in the meantime, touched the lives of many students and their families. Morrissette operated a website chronicling her father's illness, where people posted more than 1,600 entries in his online guest book.

"I don't think I've ever had a teacher that's touched my life in the way that my dad touched these kids' lives," she said.

The Rev. Paul Jarvis said he met Epperly almost two years ago when Jarvis became the priest at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Chaska.

"I took a liking to him right away," Jarvis said. "You would hope every teacher would have as much of an impact as Tom."

Jarvis recalled Epperly's emphatic insistence that students respect him, each other and themselves. And he respected them in return.

The cancer forced him to retire in January, but when the school's eighth-grade class was set to graduate in June, Epperly attended the ceremony, surprising the kids and their families.

"He just loved his students and their parents," Jarvis said. "And the parents and the students loved him in return."

Epperly's family has set up a scholarship fund in his name for Guardian Angels students. Jarvis said he'll place one requirement on those awarded the scholarship -- he'll insist that the student receiving the award keep Epperly's old baseball card with him or her at all times as a way to keep his memory alive.

In addition to Colleen, Epperly is survived by his wife of 37 years, Cressy; a son, Courtney Epperly of St. Paul; his father, Bob Epperly, and five siblings, Kathy Anderson, Terry Carlson, Mary Czarnowski, Bill Epperly and Marty Epperly.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Church of St. Matthew in St. Paul. Guardian Angels also will hold an as-yet-unscheduled memorial service.