MERIDEN — The loss of UConn cornerstone Dee Rowe hit the state hard when he died at age 91 last Sunday.
It hit hard in Meriden, particularly with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist at the Franciscan Life Center on Finch Avenue.
In addition to helping propel UConn athletics into national prominence, Rowe was a fixture at the Franciscan Sports Banquet and Silent Auction each year.
More than once, he was honored at the prestigious fundraiser put on the Franciscan Life Center. In 2012, Rowe received the Jim Calhoun Community Service Award and, five years later, received the Saint Francis Award. He also introduced 2011 honoree Tom Moore.
But it went beyond that. Rowe, said Sister Barbara Johnson, the executive director of the Franciscan Life Center, was the life of the party each year.
“You couldn’t help but be drawn to Dee and his warm and engaging personality,” Johnson said this week. “He was always a gentleman. We enjoyed his witty sense of humor so much at our banquet. He would have the whole room roaring with laughter.
“He was also very kind and considerate and wasn’t afraid of expressing it. Each year, we would get a handwritten note from him thanking us and reafirmming the work we do at our center.”
Mother Shaun Vergauwen met Rowe through former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, another annual fixture at the Franciscan Sports Banquet and Silent Auction.
“We went to the Final Four in 1999 and 2004 and we met a lot of people, and one of them was Dee,” Vergauwen recalled. “He also had a great connection with us. He loved people and became a friend through the years. None of these relationships would not have been possible without Jim Calhoun. That’s how we got to know so many people.”
Vergauwen said Rowe was a fan of the Franciscan Life Center.
“He loved what we were doing with counseling and deep care and hospice,” Vergauwen said. “He was devoted to what we were doing. He loved to talk. Dee and Jim helped the banquet take on a special flavor. It was a very united group, no matter who we were honoring.”
Rowe was the UConn men’s basketball head coach from 1969 to 1976. During his eight years as head coach, the Huskies were 120-88, including 88-48 over his final five seasons. Rowe’s 1977 team made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
After retiring as coach in 1977, Rowe launched the fundraising arm of UConn athletics and played a key role in raising money to build the school's on-campus basketball arena, Gampel Pavilion.
Among his many accomplishments, he also was a member of the search committees that brought eventual National Hall of Fame basketball coaches Calhoun and Geno Auriemma to UConn.
In 2007, Rowe became a member of the inaugural class of UConn basketball's "Huskies of Honor." His plaque hangs in Gampel Pavilion.
In 2017, he received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The 35th annual Franciscan Sports Banquet and Silent Auction, which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, is scheduled for June 1 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. Former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning will be the guest of honor and will receive the St. Francis Award.