Former athletes, coaches and community members are mourning the passing of Eddie Lapponese, a longtime Enfield businessman and sportsman, who died unexpectedly Monday at his home. He was 74.
Lapponese, an original member of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame board of directors when the organization was founded in 1996, had attended the monthly meeting of that group just a few days prior to his death.
“Eddie was in his always great spirits last Tuesday night,” said 2002 Hall of Fame inductee Marian Dippel, who currently serves on the board. “His positive and enthusiastic attitude will be so greatly missed.”
Lapponese’s name is almost synonymous with Enfield sports. He was involved for many years with the Enfield Parents Sports Association, coaching girls softball, basketball and the Enfield Americans youth football team. He was a founding member of the Enfield Flag Football League, and served as its commissioner for six years. He also organized and ran the Brian Fisher Memorial Softball Tournaments for many years, which raised scholarship money for high school students. His constant presence at a local ballfield earned him the nickname “the Mayor of Brainerd Park.”
While serving as vice president of REVCO in the late 1970s, Lapponese decided to follow his lifelong dream of owning a sporting goods store. Eddie’s Sporting Goods opened in 1978, and for 16 years, athletes of all ages would benefit from his sports knowledge, and from his generosity and commitment to his community.
“My mom was a single mom, and money was always tight, but as a kid, Eddie made sure my brother and I had what we needed to play ball,” recalled Pat McCue. “I know that we weren’t the only kids he helped out. He will be surely missed by me. The world is a little worse off today, but Heaven has a good man in their midst.”
“It is a tremendous loss for the town,” said Bill Chaves, who founded the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame and is currently athletic director at Eastern Washington University. “Eddie used sports and the selling of sporting goods to touch so many lives – it really is incredible. Anyone that touched a bat or ball in Enfield knew Eddie – just a tremendous human being. Sports has the ability to do two things really well – allow for intense competition both individually and from a team perspective, as well as the ability to form relationships with people. Eddie embodied this.”
Susan Mercik Davis, a 2005 Hall of Famer and current board member, remembered getting all her sports equipment at Eddie’s. “He was a good friend of our family, and it was a surprise to me that, as I reconnected with Eddie through the Hall of Fame, we realized that I was actually becoming friends with his daughter through our kids,” she said. “He always joked that my Alli was a spitfire, and reminded him of me as a kid. He reminded me of that on Tuesday at the meeting. He will be missed.”
“For many of us, Eddie’s Sporting Goods was the best place to shop for athletic stuff, and it was even better because of the kind, generous support that Eddie offered our teams as youngsters,” said Hall of Fame chairman Mike Cotnoir. “Eddie always thought of helping the athlete, team and community first, and profit for his longstanding business long after that.”
Jon LeBlanc, a 1984 Fermi High School graduate, said, “I got a very generous student-athlete scholarship from Eddie’s at graduation my senior year.”
In 1999, the Hall of Fame honored Lapponese for his years of dedication to Enfield athletics by presenting him the George Daly Special Recognition Award, given in memory of another original committee member.
In a publication commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Hall of Fame in 2005, Lapponese wrote, “It was an honor and a privilege to be enshrined in the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame with the many outstanding Hall of Famers, and to receive recognition for my contributions to sports in the town of Enfield.”
Lapponese remained involved in town sports until his final days. He umpired in the Enfield Girls Softball League this past year, and served as gym coordinator at Enfield Street School for youth basketball. He was also a key member of the Hall of Fame Golf Classic committee, and volunteered at the first Amy Romano Memorial Field Hockey Jamboree in August.
He leaves five children, ten grandchildren, a brother and sister, and numerous other relatives, as well as hundreds of friends. He was predeceased by his wife, Regina “Babe” (Liberty) Lapponeses, in 1998.
Calling hours will be Thursday, Jan. 21, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Leete-Stevens Enfield Chapels, 61 South Rd., Enfield. A procession will form at the funeral home Friday at 11 a.m. and proceed to St. Patrick’s Church, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at noon.