Fred Turoff sat in a bittersweet mode on the afternoon of Feb. 24.
After all, the men’s gymnastics coach had just witnessed the reinstatement of Temple’s crew and rowing teams in a public meeting at Sullivan Hall, a monumental partial-reversal of the decision to cut seven varsity programs from Temple’s athletic budget.
President Neil Theobald had recommended the reinstatement, soon approved by Temple’s Board of Trustees, on the heels of an announcement that the city of Philadelphia would donate $2.5 million to renovate the East Park Canoe House on the Schuylkill River, while Temple trustee Gerry Lenfest would pump a further $3.5 million into the renovation.
Yet, Turoff’s men’s gymnastics team still was one of five university sports set to be terminated from the program in the summer. As the meeting wrapped up, the athletics chair of the Board that had just improved the afternoon’s decision, Lewis Katz, approached Turoff with an offer.
“The deal was that if we raised $70,000 for the program, he’d match it,” Turoff said.
“I didn’t know him until we were dropped in December, and I had never spoken to him until that day in February,” Turoff added. “When he approached us, it was certainly surprising because he was head of the athletic council that dropped us, but he saw value in our program.”
Katz’s offer helped gymnastics’ eventual approval to remain at the school as a club team.
Katz was never able to fulfill his word on the matter, as he was one of seven killed in a private jet crash in Hanscom Field in Massachusetts, roughly 20 minutes northwest of Boston, traveling home from a fundraiser at the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Keams Goodwin.
“This week, we were at $53,000 so it was close,” Turoff said. “I was anticipating sending him an email in the next week or two saying we reached the figure and seeing what we could work out.”
Katz was more known regionally and nationally as former owner of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets as well as the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. He was known as a minority owner for MLB’s New York Yankees and co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.
But locally, and for those who knew the 72-year-old, he was renowned for his role and continued generosity to his alma matter at Temple, as well as its athletic program.
“Temple University and Temple athletics lost a champion with the tragic death of Trustee Lewis Katz,” vice president and athletic director Kevin Clark said in a statement Sunday. “Lewis touched so many lives, not just at Temple, but worldwide with his philanthropy. He was truly a great man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and the families of the others who lost their lives in the crash.”
In a statement from football coach Matt Rhule, he said, “I am sadly mourning the tragic loss of Lewis Katz. He was not only a tremendous leader, supporter and believer in Temple and Temple athletics, he was also my friend. My heart is heavy knowing he will no longer be with us.”
Katz had been chairperson of the Board’s athletic committee for years, and was involved in high-profile coaching search committees throughout the years, including those that resulted in the hiring of former football coach Al Golden and basketball coach Fran Dunphy.
“In athletics, Louis was very active and very supportive,” Bill Bradshaw, athletic director from 2002 to 2013, said. “He was always asking what he could do and how he could help. He was not only a great financial supporter, but he gave his time and his efforts to athletics through the years.”
“He was supportive financially, but gave himself as well,” Bradshaw added. “He was a very busy person and that’s why he was unique.”
Katz pledged a $25 million to the university last November, the single-largest such gift in university history.
He won a private auction for $88 million with Lenfest for ownership of The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com last Tuesday, five days before his death.
A memorial service for Katz was held Wednesday at the Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia at 11 a.m.
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.