This Memorial Day had an extra meaning for many in the valley. We lost a great man and a true patriot when Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Bartolomea passed away on May 18 after fighting the good fight against cancer.
The fact that Dick and Julie, his wife of 49 years, had just moved to Boalsburg, the birthplace of Memorial Day, seems fitting for a man who served his country so well and for so long. He did three tours in Vietnam, rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel, and completed his final assignment in the Marine Corps teaching naval science for the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Penn State. Dick retired from the Marine Corp in 1993 after 26 years of service to his country. He went on to lead Penn State’s Sports Camps to unprecedented success for 20 years.
Our friend. The Colonel. No matter if you knew him as Dick, Richard, Mr. B, Black Bart, Crash, or simply as the Colonel, he was a great friend and mentor to so many. Whether it was his fellow Marines, the many Marines under his various commands, the students he taught in NROTC, CCD Classes, or as a basketball coach, or the thousands of kids who came through Penn State’s Sports Camps, his impact was wide and deep.
Mentor, servant leader, class act, great father, devoted husband, best friend. They don't come any better than the Colonel. I personally lost a best friend, confidant, big brother and my golfing buddy.
There are a few people who come into our lives and we are forever changed for the better for having known them. Few have impacted me in so many positive ways as the Colonel. He was the epitome of a "hill climber". From the poem "The Guy in the Glass," to the book "A Message to Garcia," to a sign he gave me that proclaims, "Life always offers you a second chance… It's called tomorrow," the life lessons he taught are timeless.
The Colonel was a great servant leader and teacher. “Coach, there are two types of people in this world. Hill climbers and sock counters. Leaders need to be hill climbers. Be a hill climber.” I still have the trophy he had made for me after we won our fourth consecutive ACHA national title with a hockey player on a base that reads, “Coach Battista, Hill Climber”.
He also gave me a plaque that he used to keep in his office with the inscription of “The Guy in the Glass” poem. My favorite stanza states, “For it isn’t your father or mother, or wife whose judgment upon you must pass, the fellow whose verdict counts the most in your life is the one staring back from the glass.”
Way back in 1996, he gave me a copy of one of his favorite books, “A Message to Garcia,” for my birthday. It was only 42 pages long but incredibly impactful. The author’s main point is that “there is virtue in hard work and commitment, and that these virtues make young men into responsible men, and as such, into responsible members of society.”
While the book was written in 1899, a recent review of the book by Super Summary described it as “a well-needed light on contemporary society.” It went on to say, “By revealing how a genuine approach to duty can not only connect one to a greater cause, but how this attention to initiative and hard work can ultimately transform one into a beacon of positive self-worth and identity, with the ability to affect change in others, as well as affect situations for the betterment of others.”
Anytime I was going through a difficult time in my life, the Colonel was always there for me. He was part father figure, part big brother and part best friend. He was a great listener and he had a great knack for helping me to see the big picture and the greater good. During a particularly challenging time of trying to figure out what was next for me in my career, the Colonel and Julie presented me with the perfect gift at the perfect time.
It was a sign that says, "Life always offers you a second chance… It's called tomorrow." It hangs in my bedroom where I see it every morning.
These are a few of the great memories and lessons in my life from the Colonel. Now multiply this scenario by thousands of others that he helped in different ways during his life and you begin to realize what a difference maker he was to so many.
His devotion to the Marine Corp was legendary. It was part of his DNA.
Dick didn’t just talk the talk of living the lifestyle of a Marine. He could have been the poster boy. Semper fidelis is Latin for “always faithful” or “always loyal.” Go to the official Marine Corps site and you will see their definition of semper fidelis. “It means that being a Marine isn’t about giving or receiving orders; it’s about behaving in a manner that inspires others.”
The Colonel inspired everyone he touched. He was a model Marine. Even when you had a disagreement with him he still found a way to make you feel respected. He could be stubborn, for sure, but mostly in a good way. He absolutely stood up for his values and beliefs and was proud of his country and the men and women who have served and those who serve today.
Ok, every now and then his Italian temper did get the best of him.
“He had a heavy conversation with Father Charles once, almost coming to blows.” said his youngest son Jim. “‘An eye for an eye’ was basically what they were arguing about. It was funny but they were really going at it!”
He was a great husband and loved his walks with his wife Julie on the golf course, his trips to Bethany Beach and going to visit the kids. He was so proud of his children and grandchildren. We have come to know his children and their spouses and let me tell you, the Colonel (and Julie) have much to be proud of in Bart, Bill, Kelly and Jim and their families. All have successful careers. His two oldest sons Bart and Bill followed Dick into the Marine Corps. Bart recently retired as a major, and Bill just became a full-bird colonel. The Colonel was very proud.
As for my friend, I struggle to find words that can do our relationship justice. My phone would often ring shortly after 8 a.m. and Dick’s deep voice would command, "Hey Coach, come on down to the Multi-sport, I just put on a fresh pot of coffee." I would arrive and he’d have the coffee ready and knew exactly how I liked it with two Splenda and French Vanilla non-dairy creamer. Of course he would always throw in a dig, “How do you drink that foo-foo coffee?”
We would talk about family, current happenings at Penn State and our jobs, and there were a lot of conversations about golf. On many occasions, other coaches and athletics operations staff would join us. Amazing what we would learn in those impromptu coffee sessions.
One of my best memories included a time when our wives came to see Dick and I play in an IM summer softball league game. They teased us a lot of times about why we were even playing on a team with all these young guys from the sports camp and multi-sport staffs. Well the Colonel and I didn’t take too kindly to that teasing. As fate would have it the Colonel was rounding third base attempting to score when he pulled his calf muscle and couldn’t walk. He was helped over to the trainer for assistance. A couple batters later I came up to bat and while attempting to beat out an infield hit, I stretched to reach the bag and heard a pop. I pulled my hamstring and had to be helped off the field. So there we were, both with pulled muscles, sitting in the Gator with ice bags wrapped around our legs. Our wives just shook their heads.
Dick was well known for holding court with all the young summer camp staff and the people that worked in facilities and operations around campus. Some feared the Colonel, most loved him, but all respected him. All the athletes who used the Multi-sport Complex loved “Mr. B” and he knew almost all of them by name. His small acts of kindness and his timely advice on school, sports and life always made a difference for the student-athletes.
Katie, Annie, Tommy, Bob, Spider, Kirk, Kevin, Dan, Ben, Roy, Amy, Dr. O, Jim, Tim, and all the other staff, coaches and administrators who worked with Dick, I know you all feel the same way that I do about the Colonel.
Each of us has a favorite memory of Dick and probably has a favorite "Colonelism".
Here are just a few:
“If you're going through hell, keep going!”
"Don't wish me a Happy Birthday, wish me a Happy Flag Day on June 14."
"Don't let your alligator mouth overrule your hummingbird ass." (Basically, if you are going to talk, you better be prepared to back it up).
“Before you make a decision ask these questions: Is it moral, is it ethical, and is it legal?”
“Treat people fairly, firmly, consistently and with dignity.”
“Cold, like heat and pain, is a state of mind.”
‘The tail is wagging the dog again!”
“Shirt tails in, hats off in the building gentlemen.”
“Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
“What are they going to do, shave my head and make me join the Marine Corp? Please do!”
“If it moves and shouldn’t, use duck tape. If it doesn’t move and should, use WD-40.”
“They’re pole vaulting over mouse turds again.”
“The only reason anyone would follow this individual is out of sheer curiosity.”
“That guy hasn’t seen the ball since kickoff!”
“Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Mr. B hired my daughter Brianna to work in the sports camp office for her first job while she was in high school. She couldn’t have had a better first boss. Her favorite lesson from the Colonel was the Seven P’s: "Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance."
My wife remembers Dick as the grill master from all the cookouts and birthday parties. He and Julie always invited our whole family to events at their home, including our young kids, and Heidi’s father, Smitty, as well. Dick always looked out for Smitty.
Our shared passion was golf. Our scores didn’t really matter on the many Sunday afternoon rounds walking nine holes at Skytop Mountain. It was the camaraderie and the discussions of family, work, religion, politics, and laughing at each other’s misfires and putts that didn’t fall. I was fortunate to be a witness the day he got his hole-in-one on lucky No. 13 at Skytop.
The young guys would take golf carts while the Colonel would always walk. He had this Gary Player swing and you knew when he hit a great shot because he just kept walking right through the follow through.
A final story comes from our years of working together during Penn State’s summer sports camps and our “tradition” for formally closing camps. We used to run seven weeks of hockey camp, which were the most of any camp, and we were always the last camp of the summer. After we would lock up the final locker room and collect all the keys, I would call Dick from the old Greenberg Ice Rink at “Forward,” his summer camp headquarters. The conversation went like this:
“Colonel Bartolomea, this is Coach Battista. Ice Hockey Camp has officially concluded.”
Dick would say, “Thank you Coach Battista, I declare Penn State Summer Camps officially concluded. Please report to Forward ASAP.”
I would drive up to his temporary camp office in East Halls late on that Friday afternoon, turn in the keys, and give the Colonel a salute. We would shake hands, with a very firm handshake, and he would proceed to take out a small brown paper bag with two cans of Miller Lite. We did a toast and drank that beer slowly while we recalled the funniest stories from camp that summer.
The Colonel is walking fairways in heaven today. The world lost a true servant leader but Heaven gained an extraordinary soul.
Semper fi my friend. Our friend. The Colonel.
A public memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, June 2, at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College. A memorial reception will be held at Pegula Ice Arena at 1 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the Bartolomea family requests donations are made in Dick's honor to the Semper Fi Fund at semperfifund.org.