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Doc Heaps - Truly a Great Man

Mansfield lost a part of its soul last week.

Dr. John Heaps -- known as Doc to just about everybody in the Mansfield community -- passed away May 11 at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre.

Life in Mansfield just won't be the same without him.
If there is truth to the saying of being all things to all people -- that would be Doc Heaps, who was 76 when he died.

Whether you were one of his college baseball players or a student teacher, or a girls high school tennis player, Doc would connect with you.

He was so unique in his ability to connect with people, he even became the unofficial spiritual adviser to our local Catholic priest -- and Doc was a Methodist.

Doc and his wife, Claire, moved to Mansfield in 1959 and instantly made an impact on our community.

Doc started as a professor in elementary education and assistant basketball coach to the legendary Bill Gibson.

He went on to became the head coach of the Mountaineer baseball program, creating a legacy of success that continues today.

Doc was a terrific coach but an even better recruiter.

He was such a good recruiter that he convinced hundreds of young men to come to play baseball at Mansfield.

Twenty-four of them were later drafted by major league teams, including Tom Brookens who went on to play 12 seasons in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians.

As successful as he was as a coach, Doc's personal legacy was determined more by his character.

Doc Heaps was just fun to be around. He loved people -- all kinds of people.

The more diverse you were, the more welcomed you would be in his life.

From the moment you met him, you knew he was special.

First there was that mischievous smile.

It always seemed to be on his face -- welcoming and warm mixed in with a bit of naughty fun.

The type of smile that comes to your own face when you meet someone you really like.

Then there were those twinkling eyes set behind the always-present glasses, eyes that seemed to have the ability to pierce your soul and see things in you that you never saw in yourself.

He made friends instantly and they were friends for life. He was a great storyteller who could regale you for hours on end.

Doc was also a man of action. When he saw a need, he simply filled the void.

He was so good at getting things done and bypassing regulations that the phrase "I'd rather beg your forgiveness than ask your permission" was always associated with him.

He saw a need for Little League and helped establish it in Mansfield.

He saw a need for a summer gifted camp and created one.

He saw a need for Mansfield schoolchildren to see the world and started summer travel programs so our children could meet children around the world to see we all shared more similarities than differences.

Maybe his greatest attribute was that Doc could get almost anyone to believe in themselves.

He might not always be able to show you how to do something, but he always could make you believe you could do it.

He could be tough, and although just 5 feet, 4 inches tall, he never backed down for anyone or anything if he felt he was right.

Doc was a man's man and a ladies man too.

He was charming and incorrigible but always seemed to know the right thing to do.

Doc had a great sense of dignity and grace. He knew that the test of a true man was not what you accomplished in life, but how you lived your life.

When he finally retired from Mansfield, Doc sent a rose and a note to every secretary on campus whether they worked with him or not.

He said secretaries were the only people who really ever got things done and he wanted to recognize them for all they did.

When it came time to say goodbye to Doc, the line for his viewing stretched around the building, and the church was packed at his funeral.

Townspeople, childhood friends, former students, baseball players, fellow professors and administrators were there to pay tribute to their friend and mentor.

Every single person there had a special memory of Doc Heaps and everyone there felt he was a special person in their lives.

I'm sure Doc felt the same about them.

Link to MU Story on Heaps

Dr. John Heaps Obit from Star-Gazette


Last week, we asked that people who wished to share memories or stories of Doc would send us an email and we would publish those words. Below are the words we received. For anyone wishing to add to this list, feel free to email

From Bill and Glenda Clark:

We learned of John's passing yesterday in an email from Terry Crouthamel.  We were saddened to hear the news. My MSC career was much more entangled with John than you might be aware.  As I--an Ohio outsider-- arrived, John's loyalty was understandably with Bill Gibson.  Despite that, I approached John for some historical fill-in regarding travel routines, trip housing venues, general techniques utilized, and the like.  John was gracious to spend several hours in discussion with me--a great help to a total stranger who was a veteran coach,  but new to the college ranks. 
In the 63-64 season we were 6-0 at the Christmas break without Terry.  The moment the four Clarks arrived back in Mansfield just after New Years Day a message was waiting telling of my Mother's sudden death almost immediately after we left my boyhood home.  Since I had no assistant, I immediately contacted John to see if he would take the team to our next game at Indiana, PA.  Once again John won my gratitude by agreeing to do so.  Unfortunately,  we  suffered our first loss--to be avenged in the return match.
After two years doubling as the only baseball coach, I prevailed on John to replace me in that role in 1966.  As they say, the rest is history as Coach Heaps compiled his magnificent record as the Mounties' diamond leader.  We will miss our dinners with John and Claire--a highlight of each of our returns to Mansfield!

From Tammy Wilson:

My first encounter with Doc was in 1990 when I went to work at the Rural Services Institute which was a part of what is now the Center for Lifelong Learning. The copy machine was located in the hallway outside my office. Every department, project or camp had a special copy code assigned to it. All would be quiet and then I’d hear someone walk up to use the copier. You could hear the “peep, peep, peep, peep” as the code was being punched in only to be followed by a very long annoying beeping noise. Once again you would hear the “peep, peep, peep, peep” as the number was being entered again only to receive the same results. Only this time you would then begin to hear the frustration being aired by the person attempting to use the machine. I would immediately say, “Good Morning, Doc” and then the bantering back and forth would begin between us.

In all the years I have had the privilege of working with Doc on different projects around campus I quickly learned that he and technology, electronic equipment, etc. did not get along. It seemed no matter whether it was trying to use the copier or sending a fax, nothing would work for him. He would save things to disks or on the computer and they could never be found again. Sending emails could also present a challenge, but fortunately there was always someone there to help him out. Of course, as soon as one of us would come to his rescue everything would always work exactly as it should and he would always have something to say and just shake his head.

One of his last encounters with things not working as they should happened this past summer when he came to our office to work on finalizing things for the travel trip to Italy & Switzerland. I was at my desk when into my office he walked and said, “Didn’t you hear me?” He had apparently gotten stuck in the elevator. Anyone familiar with the layout of the 2nd floor of Memorial Hall will know where the elevator is located and unfortunately none of us did hear him banging on the doors, but he was able to muster up enough strength and pulled the doors apart and step down the 6” the elevator was stuck above the floor level. From that point on, he never used the elevator again.

I had not gotten to know Doc that well before he retired, but when he did retire he did something that always impressed me and as I got to know him better over the years, I came to understand that this act of his was only typical of the kind of person he was. One day I was sitting at my desk in Rural Services working and in walked a young man carrying a single rose and a note. He didn’t say anything only gave me the rose. I quickly read the note and discovered it was from Doc. As a thank you to all the secretarial/support staff on campus he sent us each a special note with a single rose to be sure that we all knew he recognized are contribution to the University and that it would not be possible for it to operate without our services.

Over my 20 years here at the University I have worked in different offices and have now returned to the Center for Lifelong Learning where I once again had the privilege to work with Doc on the Gifted Camp and Travel Trip. His love for children and travel was always apparent as he planned these trips and choose what he thought would provide them with the most memorable trip of their lives. Because of his generosity and desire for the local children to see something outside of Mansfield, several students have had the opportunity to travel that they may never have had if it weren’t for him. Both my daughter and son have had that opportunity thanks to him. One of the hardest decisions he had to make was deciding he was not physically able to go on the travel trip last year. His own disappointment was matched double by all the children looking forward to “an adventure with Doc”.

On the Monday following his passing as I turned up College Avenue to come to work, I immediately noticed the blooming cherry trees, that were inspired by Doc to have lining the street and to be blooming in time for graduation. The sun was shining just above South Hall and the pink blossoms were glistening in the sunlight and morning dew; I thought of him. I will always cherish the time I had to spend with Doc. He will be truly missed, but will never be forgotten.

From Patrice Ametrano:

I am sad to hear about the death of "Papa" Heaps.  I was friendly w/ his daughter, Julie when we attended MU.

From Terry Crouthamel:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Coach Heaps. He was the consummate gentleman, teacher, and coach.
I get a smile on my face when I think back to my playing experience at Mansfield under the coaching of Coach Gibson and Coach Heaps. I remember one time especially in my sophomore year when we defeated Edinboro for the conference championship. We were all assembling in the lobby of our motel the morning after the game to return to Mansfield. This was after a night of "quiet" celebration for our victory. Coach Heaps was sitting on a chair head in his hands contemplating his responsibility for driving one of the cars back to Mansfield. Unfortunately, a smiling Coach Gibson wasn't in a sympathetic mood and Coach Heaps had to suck it up and do his duty. The players got a good chuckle out of it.
I always looked forward when I returned to Mansfield for the Hall of Fame dinner because I could generally count on seeing Coach Heaps. He always made sure to say hello and ask how I was doing and some of the players from the early 60's.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our thoughts and memories about this special person.

From Tim Fausnaught:

Dr. Heaps was instrumental in my development as an educator.  He was the teacher that made me realize I could be successful in the classroom; not just on the baseball field.  I know that others tried, but he was the one I connected with.  He was fun, down to earth, honest, and full of life.   I always enjoyed visiting with Dr. Heaps.  I am going to miss him.

From Harry Hillson:

We've played baseball at Mansfield for 140 years but no one was more instrumental to the success of our program than Doc Heaps. He's the guy who made us a national power. Everything we do now is to maintain the program he built.

He not only built a baseball program but he made Mansfield University and the Mansfield community a better place for all of us. He was one of the finest men I've ever known.

Grown men across the county will break down in tears when they hear the news of his passing. He just wasn’t a great coach – that was actually the least of his contributions. John Heaps was a leader of men who distilled a sense of dedication and decency into everyone he came in contact with.

From Luke Krauss

I speak as a person who's life was totally changed by Doc. As one who attended the camp for Gifted and Talented students, organized by Doc and

others, I can truly say that without the guidance of this man i would not be the person i am today. I attended the camp between the summers of

92 till 96 and had a lot of issues relating to the other campers there.

If it had not been for his guidance i would not have been able to grow and succeed. My first summer Doc helped me to understand how life was to

be lived and how everyone needs to be a part of life so that we can all be better. He made me want to return as many years as i was able and at one point i was going to be a counselor for the camp because of him. I did not get the chance to do so but i remember hearing him talk about how he was proud of me for wanting to give back to the camp and to share what i had learned there.

Some time later a group of former campers and I, who are life long friends from what we have shared at that camp, returned to watch a performance that was put on by the students there at the time. Most of us were in our early to mid twenty's then so we hadn't been members of the camp for a few years. We sat in the balcony of the theater because it was out of the way. Doc noticed us up there and introduced us to the audience as former students of his from the camp. It was one of my proudest moments. To be recognized publicly for simply being successful as college students and entering into careers by a man as great as Doc is something I will remember for the rest of my life. His words and guidance will continue to be in my mind as well. I wish to try to speak for all the students that he had at that camp for the many many years he

was there, though i know it would be impossible to do so because we all have something different to say on what Doc did for us. I only know that each and every one of them would say " Thank you Doc " and " We miss you. " Doc was a man that should not have died, should never have aged beyond good health, should never have suffered, because Doc was a man for mankind to learn from and he will never be forgotten by those that knew him.

Thank you Doc

Luke Krauss



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