Louis V. Kasperik, a retired Derry pharmacist and community leader who was the last surviving member of Duquesne University's great "Iron Dukes" basketball team, died March 26. He was 93.
Mr. Kasperik, who died of congestive heart failure, played for Duquesne, coached by Chick Davies, from 1937-41. The team earned the nickname "Iron Dukes" during the 1940-41 season because the starting five played almost every minute of every game. That was the year after Mr. Kasperik and the Dukes became the first team to play in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same season.
The "Iron Dukes" were inducted into the Duquesne Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.
Mr. Kasperik, a 1937 graduate of Derry Township High School, was a 6-foot-3 forward/center. Known as a gentleman off the court, he was a physical player with a bit of a mean streak who was a tough defender and rebounder.
"Chick Davies was the kind of coach who prided himself on having a great defensive team and liked his guys to play physical and that was my dad's game, he could really beat guys up," said Mr. Kasperik's son, Bob. "He also had some finesse to his game as he could score, but in those days teams didn't score as much so it wasn't as big of a deal as it is these days.
"Heck, here is how long ago it was when he played -- his freshman year, they still had a jump ball after every basket. So we're talking a much different era but that Iron Dukes team was very close and they all got together for a weekend every year for a long time."
Mr. Kasperik graduated from Duquesne's school of pharmacy in 1941 and went on to play basketball for the Detroit Eagles, a championship professional team. Mr. Kasperik was considered to be extremely well-compensated as his salary with the Eagles was $5,000 per year.
Mr. Kasperik was playing in a game against the Harlem Globetrotters on Dec. 7, 1941, when the game was halted because of an announcement that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. In the coming years the Eagles and many other professional sports teams were disbanded because of World War II.
Mr. Kasperik was proficient at other sports as well. He had some college scholarship offers for football and his best sport may have been baseball -- he was a pitcher whose fastball earned him a contract with a Pirates minor league affiliate.
"He was an old-school fastball pitcher, with that huge windup," Bob Kasperik said. "You see the pictures of him throwing and he had his foot all the way up over his head and the ball down at his ankles and he would wind up. He said he threw in the 90s and he would often go to Forbes Field and pitch batting practice or pitch to the players during exhibitions ...
"He said that he didn't really struggle with anybody in particular, except [Pirates Hall of Famer] Arky Vaughn. He always used to say 'that Arky Vaughn, he hit me like he owned me ... .' "
His baseball career, however, never went anywhere because he enlisted in the Army and served from 1942 to '45. He was involved in the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge and received the Bronze Star and the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with four Bronze Stars. He held the rank of staff sergeant upon discharge.
"The funny thing about Dad is he never liked to brag about his accomplishments; he just believed you did what you were supposed to and your reward wasn't medals or trophies or awards, it was knowing that you helped somebody," Bob Kasperik said. "About 1995, he was asked to speak at some veterans event and when he was introduced, they talked about all he had accomplished and the five Bronze Stars he won and I leaned to my sister and said 'Did you know about this?'
"She didn't, either, and this was 50 years after the fact and when I asked my dad why he didn't tell us about it all, he was sort of like, 'Well, just one of those things.' That's just how he was, he wanted to help people, he always had time for people and he never wanted it to be about him."
Mr. Kasperik, who lived in Derry for most of his life and ran Kasperik Pharmacy from 1953 until he retired in 1982, was involved in countless community service projects, served on numerous boards of directors and won community service awards throughout his life.
In October, he received the community service award from the Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce for his lifetime of efforts on behalf of his community. He was a member of the Latrobe Hospital board of directors from 1958 to 2004. He was the chairman from 1988-91 and was instrumental in developing and instituting the hospital's successful home health services program.
Mr. Kasperik is also a member of the Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and Duquesne sports halls of fame.
Mr. Kasperik was preceded in death by his wife, Liberty, and is survived by his son, Bob of Derry; his daughter, Vickie McCarthy of Latrobe; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
The funeral was private at Mr. Kasperik's request. Memorial contributions may be made to the Latrobe Area Hospital Charitable Foundation, One Mellon Way, Latrobe, PA 15650, or to St. Rose Church, 4969 Route 982, Latrobe, PA 15650.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise.