By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck sports community is mourning the loss of two icons who wore youth sports on their sleeve.
Robert Stauffer died Sept. 17 at the age of 91. A day later, Wendle Stiber died at the age of 87.
Both men were instrumental in building a foundation for local youth sports for close to 60 years.
Stauffer was a founding member of the Naugatuck Babe Ruth 13-15-year-old baseball league and the Senior Babe Ruth League, the Naugatuck Junior Football League, and the Naugatuck Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Stiber, known as “Mr. Little League,” was the District 3 commissioner and served as state coordinator for Little League Baseball. He had the longest tenure as district administrator and made annual trips for over 50 years to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series. He was inducted into the Naugatuck Hall of Fame in 2014.
“The town of Naugatuck lost a pair of legends,” said Ray Rossi Jr., treasurer and administrator for the Hall of Fame. “It was the selfless volunteering and behind the scenes work of these men that are the backbone of youth sports in Naugatuck.”
“It’s a huge loss to the town. Bob Stauffer was an institution. He was here at the Hall of Fame when I first started,” Rossi continued. “When you talk about Stauffer and Stiber, these guys are the Mt. Rushmore of Naugatuck sports. Wendle was such a nice humble guy you didn’t even realize the influence he had on Little League in this town. What he meant to the youth of Naugatuck is huge.”
Rossi said both men worked behind the scenes for decades.
“Unless you were coaching or running the league, you didn’t notice the impact that these two men had on youth sports in the town,” he said.
These men not only helped to establish the foundation of youth sports in Naugatuck, they planted the seeds for the next generation.
“It was Wendle that got me involved in umpiring after I was through coaching my boys at Union City Little League,” said Al Terry, umpire-in-chief for UCLL and a member of the Naugatuck Hall of Fame.
“Wendle encouraged me and I wound up doing districts and regionals and eventually a World Series. He was such a great guy and a big influence on me being an umpire,” added Terry, who is still umpire-in-chief at UCLL almost 40 years later.
Stauffer served as Babe Ruth commissioner for the state for 18 years and another 10 years as the New England Babe Ruth commissioner. He coached Little League and Little Pal basketball, refereed basketball, and served as an administrator for the American Legion baseball team.
“Growing up Bob was our hero,” said Kevin Cyr, a member of the Naugatuck Hall of Fame and a former Naugatuck American Legion baseball head coach. “When you think of guys like Ray Legenza and Frank Johnson, Stauffer was right there with them, he was a legend in our eyes.”
“He was part of our coaching staff in 2001 when the Legion team won the state championship, Cyr continued. “He was a big guy but a gentle giant. The kids loved Bob. You talk about the foundation of youth sports in Naugatuck, Bob was the pillar of that foundation.”
Life’s journey is unpredictable.
For Stiber, a simple request by his brother, Chester, to rake the field at Peter J. Foley Little League after a game turned into 60 years of dedication to the sport. Stauffer was on the ground floor of leagues and institutions that still impact the borough to this day. They influenced countless lives along their journey.