Athletics Legend Leo Kilfoy: 1929-2018
Leo Kilfoy '51, PhD, an instructor, administrator and coach of multiple sports at St. Ambrose over nearly 50 years, died Wednesday, Aug. 29.
"Coach" Kilfoy was 89.
Services are pending.
Leo Kilfoy first came to St. Ambrose in 1947 to earn a degree in teacher education and play football for Paul "Moon" Mullins, a man he would succeed as a legend in St. Ambrose athletics. A graduate of St. George's High School in Evanston, Ill., Kilfoy played offensive line for Mullins-led teams that went 32-7 over four seasons, including an unbeaten season in 1949. He played alongside friend and roommate Art Michalik '51, who went on to play in the National Football League.
He joined the St. Ambrose faculty in 1954 and held numerous positions through his retirement in 2002. Kilfoy was athletic director, director of recreation and intramurals and chairman of the Physical Education Department. He was a head coach in football, basketball, tennis and track, and an assistant coach in each of those sports as well. He also carried a full teaching load much of his career.
He raised a family of Ambrosians, with four of his children and three of his grandchildren having earned SAU degrees. His granddaughter, Mary Kate Kilfoy, graduated in May.
Mary's father, Tim Kilfoy '80, '89, said his father retained his Fighting Bees spirit until the end.
"He loved SAU as much as anyone," Tim said. "He did not miss an SAU Homecoming for 70 years. The last few days, I would sit with him and bring up great games that he coached and the players he coached.
"His final actual conversation with me one night, I asked ‘If you could coach one more game, who would it be against?' He weakly responded, ‘Loras.' I said, ‘Do we play them home or away?' He said, ‘It doesn't matter. We'll beat them either place.' I said, ‘Football or basketball? He said, ‘Doesn't matter. We'll win either game.'"
Leo Kilfoy was honored with a McMullen Award in 2006, and was inducted into the St. Ambrose Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Quad Cities Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. In November of 2014, the basketball floor on which modern-day Fighting Bees play was christened Leo Kilfoy Court.
Significant portions of Coach Kilfoy's career were spent in the upstairs gymnasium in LeClaire Hall. Asked recently about the severely banked, wooden indoor track surrounding the gym floor, Kilfoy said he would have his track runners do laps in both directions to strengthen both ankles.
SAU Athletics Director and Head Basketball Coach Ray Shovlain '79, '82 MBA was among the hundreds of young men coached by Leo Kilfoy. Shovlain finished a record-setting basketball career under Kilfoy in 1979, and then served a season as Kilfoy's assistant in 1980.
"Coach Kilfoy taught many men who came through St. Ambrose the value of hard work and true and genuine loyalty to their teammates and school," Shovlain said. "I'm was saddened to learn of his passing. He will be remembered forever as a true Ambrosian."
"He loved SAU as much as anyone. The last few days, I would sit with him and bring up great games that he coached and the players he coached. His final actual conversation with me one night, I asked 'If you could coach one more game, who would it be against?' He weakly responded, 'Loras.' I said, 'Do we play them home or away?' He said, 'It doesn’t matter. We'll beat them either place.' I said, 'Football or basketball? He said, 'Doesn’t matter. We'll win either game.'"
Tim Kilfoy '80
Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, president of St. Ambrose, met Kilfoy a few years after his retirement. "Leo Kilfoy's contribution to St. Ambrose is legendary," she said. "We will miss him, but his memory will stay with us to inspire us all."
Beyond his retirement from St. Ambrose, Coach Kilfoy remained active and present. He won 13 Senior Olympics championships in racquetball. He also was a frequent Bees supporter in the stands of Lee Lohman Arena. For many years, he hosted a monthly breakfast with dozens of former St. Ambrose athletes.
"My best memories are without a doubt the friendships I developed with all of my Ambrose people," he said during an interview for a profile in a recent edition of Scene Magazine. "The guys I lived with. The guys I coached. The people I taught. These are all good people."