LISBON — A reclining chair was moved out to the end of his driveway middle afternoon Sunday.
A weary Steve Staker eventually walked out the front door of his house, made his way slowly down the driveway and sat down on that chair. As seemingly always, he was wearing a Coe College jacket and cap.
“Hi, grandpa!” a couple of his younger grandchildren immediately shouted in glee.
“Hi, girls!” Staker replied, with a wide smile on his face.
The former Coe head football coach and hall of fame high school coach greeted a newspaper guy, with that guy asking him what he thought about what was about to take place.
“I’m kind of wondering what the hell is going on,” he replied.
“He wants a newspaper quote,” son-in-law Steve Cook, Coe’s longtime baseball coach and new athletics director, kidded him.
What was about to happen was a tribute of monumental proportions for a man beloved by so many, who spent his life educating, coaching and mentoring kids and young adults. A man who is dying of cancer.
“I’m really weak,” Staker said. “Take two steps, and I’m so out of breath.”
Staker, 76, was diagnosed with Stage 4 gallbladder cancer about a month and a half ago. He has been in the hospital receiving treatment and unable to see his wife, their five children or their 17 grandchildren.
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This week brought even more grim news. Staker’s oncologist told him they were discontinuing treatment.
“He doesn’t like giving timelines because people can beat the odds,” the family said on the “Coach Staker Fan Club” page on Facebook. “But when pushed, (he) said dad’s timeline is likely days to weeks, not months. A hard pill to swallow.”
Tyler Staker replaced his father as Coe head coach after Steve stepped down following the 2015 season. Steve Staker, who was head coach for eight seasons, continued on as defensive line coach for Tyler.
The entire Staker family decided to reach out Saturday on Facebook and ask friends, former players and well-wishers to gather in their cars at Mount Vernon High School and caravan the relatively short distance to Steve and Linda Staker’s home in Lisbon.
The Mount Vernon police and fire departments led the caravan, which was estimated to be between 200 and 250 vehicles. No one was allowed to get out of their vehicles, with virtually everyone simply rolling down their windows, expressing their best wishes and moving along.
“Steve was (originally) told it would be six to eight months, then we were told this week it was going to be a little shorter. To days and weeks, possibly,” said daughter-in-law Julie Staker, Vice President for Admission and Marketing at Coe. “So the kids all decided, despite the coronavirus, they were going to come here and hang out with him ... They just decided it would be appropriate to let his old players and friends come by.
“We’ve had so many former players reach out, and we can’t have them all come to the house. This is kind of a good, happy medium.”
For over an hour, Staker waved at car after car, exchanging brief pleasantries with most. Those cars seemed to come from everywhere, including Fredericksburg, where Staker taught and coached for multiple decades before “retiring” and coming to Coe as an assistant coach for Erik Raeburn.
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The Stakers are a Coe family through and through, with all five kids graduating from the school. The Stakers also are a beloved family, as evidenced here.
Especially the guy they call Papa Stake.
“He changed my life,” Nolan Weber tweeted Sunday.
Weber was asked a short time later in an interview what he meant by that. It was interesting because Weber, from Cascade, never played football at Coe, just baseball.
“He was the main reason I went to Coe, and I didn’t play football,” he said. “He became a great role model to me. It was always Papa Stake because Tyler was his son and they were on the same coaching staff, but it’s more than that. He’s like everyone’s grandpa.
“He’d go on all the baseball road trips with us ... Always had a vibe about him that no matter what you are going through, you can put a positive spin to it. You just watched how he treated people. It was so powerful just being there today. Just seeing all those people that one man touched. His legacy will never be matched, in my opinion.”
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