Pete Kovacs was one of those people who, very simply, shaped lives.
"He was the guy who always told me my ticket to stay in sports would be as a trainer," recalled Mark Sharf, who spent many years as an athletic trainer in Elgin Area School District U-46. "When I was going into ninth grade at Larkin, he handed me a Kramer's Athletic Training Manual and encouraged me to pursue that path. He was a huge influence on my life."
A teacher and coach at Kimball Middle School for 29 years, a football, basketball and softball official, and a strong supporter of youth sports and activities in the Elgin area his entire life, Richard "Pete" Kovacs passed away at Sherman Hospital this past Friday after a short battle with metastatic melanoma. He would have been 76 on April 9.
"He was everybody's best friend," said his daughter, Amy Kovacs Young, on Monday. "I've been getting Facebook messages from people I don't even know with stories they remember about him. He was all the girls' favorite umpire."
Kovacs Young said her dad was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma in January.
"He was optimistic," she said. "He wanted to start chemo and take on the challenge. He kept on saying you gotta do what you gotta do. He was real tired from the chemo and on (March) 19th we had to put him in the hospital. Two months ago he was out playing tennis. He fought, but you just never know."
Born the son of Paul and Julia Kaptain Kovacs, Pete was a resident of Elgin his entire life and a 1951 graduate of Elgin High, where he played basketball for the legendary Bill Chesbrough.
"Pete was a very fine person," said Chesbrough, now 91, on Monday. "He was a super player and a wonderful guy to coach. He was a great team player and he gave you everything he had every game. You know, he was a deadly free throw shooter. He held the Elgin High record once with 26 in a row.
"He was a great competitor and just a wonderful kid to coach. I had great respect for him."
After graduating from Elgin High, Kovacs went on to play at Monmouth College, where he earned All-American status. He was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA but was called to military duty in 1955. He served as a Green Beret until 1957 and also played basketball for the 3rd Army Post team.
In addition to teaching and coaching at Kimball for 29 years, Kovacs also sold insurance for Northwestern Mutual Life for 33 years and most recently was employed by Captive Resources in Schaumburg as an on-site coordinator in the travel department, a job that allowed him to travel all over the world.
Kovacs was inducted into the Monmouth College Hall of Fame in 1984 and then, along with Chesbrough, into the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame in 1986.
"He was a very kind man and a gentleman," said Sharf, the vice president of the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame, who also recalled Kovacs, like Chesbrough, would always coach with a rolled-up spiral notebook in his hand.
"He always checked in on people to see how life was going with them. He was a special guy to me because of the way he helped me find my way in life."
Amy Kovacs Young said the community has been exceptionally passionate in its sympathy.
"So many people have reached out and been so supportive with such kind words. It's been overwhelming," she said.
Kovacs is survived by his wife, Mary Ann Smith Kovacs, as well as six children, 10 grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, and one sister.
Visitation will be Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Laird Funeral Home, 310 S. State St., Elgin. The family is then asking people to wear casual sports attire to the memorial service at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Elgin Evangelical Free Church, 1900 Big Timber Road, Elgin, where the Rev. Elliott Anderson will officiate. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorials in his name may be given to the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1133, Elgin, IL. 60121.