On Sept. 16, the Mercyhurst community lost a historic icon.
Longtime Mercyhurst employee and diehard athletic supporter Joe Hepfinger passed away at the age of 88.
During my student years from Fall 2003 through Spring 2007, I’m not sure there was a single face that was more iconic of Mercyhurst athletics than Joe Hep. While I was a student in 2004, I penned a memorial piece in the Merciad for Sister Damien Mlechick, also a longtime Hurst Athletics supporter.
I felt an equal need to write this piece today to make sure Joe’s lifelong dedication to Mercyhurst does not go unnoticed by our current students.
Joe had a learning disability and was not always able to speak his mind clearly – but he rarely forgot a face, and he would yell across the gym to get your attention just to say hello. He served as Sergeant of Arms for Student Government for a couple of decades, faithfully sitting through two-hour meetings on Monday evenings just to provide us with an update of which home teams were in action that week.
Joe started at Mercyhurst in 1971 helping with maintenance of the baseball field, and up until just recently was a fixture at the team’s home opener in throwing out the first pitch. He took thousands of tickets over the years at hockey games, and swept the MAC floor more than any of us could count. And he did it with a smile, always saying hello, and constantly reminding you that “you’re still my buddy.” He bled blue and green, and he made sure all his friends at the nursing home where he spent his final years knew he was a part of the Mercyhurst family.
If you think I’m exaggerating about Joe’s presence on campus, take a look at the Mercyhurst University Alumni Network page on Facebook and read the comments when we posted news of his passing — it is incredible. “You were the biggest Laker fan that ever lived” … “Legend” … “Can never forget Joe Hep” … “Joe was an institution and he loved the Hurst” … “He is one of my favorite people from my Mercyhurst days” — and on and on.
Joe loved Mercyhurst as much as any person I’ve ever met, and I have no doubt that he and Sister Damien are having a “comfortable cup of tea” and watching down on our Lakers each and every day. May God bless their souls and remind us all how proud we should be to be Mercyhurst Lakers.
Ryan Palm is Associate Vice President for Advancement at Mercyhurst. He served as the Sports editor of the Merciad from 2004 to 2007