Saint Ignatius High School mourns the loss of Mr. Dale Gabor ’66, longtime Athletic Director and Latin teacher, who died on Thursday, October 28, at the age of 73 after an extended illness. He is survived by Linda, his wife of over 50 years who is Chair of College Counseling, as well as his adult children Tricia and Stephen ’89, and many beloved relatives.
Alongside the names of the most important and legendary people in the proud history of Saint Ignatius Athletics, Dale Gabor’s name ranks among the greats: Wirtz, Sullivan, and others. He said that working here was his dream, and he gave nearly 50 years of service to the school, including 25 as Athletic Director during which the Wildcats ascended into the top echelon of the nation’s best athletic programs.
“Dale was a quiet, unassuming soldier who just loved doing what he was doing here,” says Saint Ignatius President Fr. Raymond Guiao, S.J. ’82. “Dale was a man of great honor and integrity. I’ve always known that about him.”
You could ask anyone affiliated with Saint Ignatius about what made Gabor good at his job, and to a person they would tell you the same thing: He wanted to do things “the right way.”
Gabor grew up on the East side and attended Holy Name grade school. As a student at Saint Ignatius, he ran track and was deeply impacted by former athletic director Fr. William Sullivan, S.J. in Theology, and Paul Nemec ’57, then a Latin teacher and head football coach. It makes sense that he continued his Jesuit education at John Carroll University, where he studied classical languages and Theology. After his graduation from there in 1970, he taught at Holy Name for a few years before returning to West 30th and Lorain in 1974 as a Theology teacher.
Eventually, he became a full-time Latin teacher and began coaching several sports. Gabor began his term as Athletic Director on the same day in 1983 that English teacher Chuck Kyle ’69 started as Head Football Coach. They committed themselves to building the football and athletic programs the right way.
“I think it was Dale’s clear philosophy that people can be academically very strong, but athletically and spiritually strong, too,” Kyle said in 2016 when Gabor was inducted into the Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Fame.
The two walked a similar path, companions on the journey to building a powerhouse athletic program. Kyle recounts how, in 1988, when the football team made its first playoff, Gabor helped everyone—the coaching staff and players—feel comfortable with the task at hand.
“He was a guy that said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll handle that. Don’t worry, we’ll get that set,’” Kyle says. “Having that support made a huge difference. And whatever happened, he was the guy that was the backbone of what was going on.”
“He was humbly caring about the quality of the programs,” Kyle adds. “He was always doing things ethically, honorably. That’s what we are. That’s the way Ignatius wants to always be.”
That care Gabor had for the entire athletic program helped it rise to unprecedented levels of success, with 20 state championships, including nine for football—plus multiple No. 1 national rankings. The Gabor Way—the right way—permeated all corners of the athletic program and the more than 15,000 young men who played sports during his tenure.
One of those student-athletes was current Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ’88, who served as Gabor’s assistant for a decade.
“I think Dale lived to serve others, and when you talk about an Ignatian ‘Man for Others,’ that’s exactly the one thing that I think about the most,” Fitzpatrick says. “He lived to serve other people.”
“If anybody knows Dale, they know that one of the things he preached from the outset was if you’re doing to do it, do it the right way, and that will let other people know what we’re all about,” Fitzpatrick says. “Everything else can flow from there.”
What did ‘the right way’ mean for Fitzpatrick? It was all rooted in respect.
“For Dale I think it was about respecting everybody else and being true to everybody else,” he says. “By doing things the right way, you’re honoring sports in the purest sense of competition. It’s not just about winning and losing, and it never was for Dale. That’s not the end game. It’s about teaching guys to do it the right way. We might win, we might lose, but at the end of the day you can walk away really happy with who you are, how you carried yourself and how you represented yourself.”
When Gabor retired as Athletic Director in 2008, he told The Plain Dealer that he was often asked what he was most proud of. His answer spoke volumes about his values and his leadership.
“I really mean this. I couldn't be more sincere,” he said. “We won, and we did it the right way. We never sacrificed our principles. We never made sports bigger than life. That's what I'm most proud of.”
Many stories and examples are sure to emerge of a humble but confident man whose life was guided by his own faith. Indeed, Dale and Linda were regulars at the Friday morning community Mass, always present in the same pew in St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel.
“They always had that same spot in the same pew every Friday morning,” says Fr. Guiao, who led them for several years through an Ignatian spirituality program. “They were extremely devoted to each other.”
The couple quietly coordinated efforts with a few other families to provide monthly meals to the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry to the Homeless for many years.
There are also untold ways that he made a huge difference in individual students’ lives. When Mark Tupa ’07 suffered a severe spinal injury on the football field, Gabor visited him in the hospital almost daily for several months and committed himself to tutoring Tupa so that he could remain on schedule to graduate with his class.
As a Latin teacher, after his athletic director days, he taught smaller classes of students who needed more individual attention or tutoring. Gabor was the director of summer school for many years, keeping his focus on helping students succeed at Saint Ignatius.
“His passion for teaching Latin and Greek was amazing and he was a great teacher,” Fitzpatrick says. “His love of that, his love of educating young men is a whole other avenue of his life that was super important and special, and he affected a lot of guys.”
Notably, Gabor was a dedicated Ohio High School Athletic Association as an administrator for cross country, and track and field. Even though he did not work in Columbus, the respect and admiration that other ADs and OHSAA members had for him made Gabor a trusted partner. Few people are aware that he worked to create a space for athletes in wheelchairs to compete in the state track and field competition.
“He was a person you could look at and say, ‘That’s an example of being a Man for Others: very humble, very behind-the-scenes, didn’t want a lot of notoriety, took great pride in how we did in all of our sports,” Fitzpatrick says. “He cultivated an atmosphere that everybody could succeed in.”
In all that he did, Gabor worked to build up those around him. Guiao recounts how Gabor asked him to attend a coaching hall of fame induction for Coach Kyle, because he wanted Kyle to feel the full support of the school behind him.
“He didn’t have to work that hard for Chico to get recognized that way, but he did,” Fr. Guiao says. “And he wanted the school to be well represented for Chico. He wanted Chico to be honored well. It was a beautiful thing.”
Despite his desire to remain in the background, Gabor received several well-deserved high honors. The track around Wasmer Field bears his name, as track & field was one of his favorite sports. In addition to the Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Fame, Gabor was enshrined in the OHSAA Officials Hall of Fame in 2019.
“There are very few people, I suspect, that can look back to their high school days and say, ‘This is what I want to do,” and then actually go out and do it!” Gabor wrote in 2016. “God has blessed me in many ways, not the least of which is to have the ability to dream big dreams. I’m not sure what class it was taught in, but somewhere I learned that everyone needs to dream because dreams actually do come true! I know!”
And by faithfully living out his dream every day, he ensured that generations of Ignatius men could also live out theirs.
The wake will be from 2-6 p.m. on Sunday, November 7, in the St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel at Saint Ignatius High School.
A Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 8, at St. Albert the Great Parish, 6667 Wallings Road, North Royalton, OH 44113.
May Dale's soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.