Obituary of John Joseph Devitt
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The Devitt Family sadly announces and mourns the loss of their father, Jack, who passed away on Wednesday, December 13 in Kingston, NY. He was just shy of his 92nd birthday. John Joseph Devitt was born on January 18, 1932, in Philadelphia where he grew up with his parents Michael and Catherine, his older sister Jane, and his younger sister Ellen. He graduated from St. Joseph's Prep School in 1950 and went on to study fine art, specializing in metalwork, at the Philadelphia College of Art. After earning his diploma, he joined Willet's Stained Glass Studio, creating designs for church and synagogue windows, decorative gold-leafed reliefs for doors, and exquisite altar pieces in silver. His designs are still found today at houses of worship in Chicago, Philadelphia, Virginia and New York city. Also a gifted painter, Jack worked for many years as a freelance artist, developing renderings in gouache from architectural plans. The finished paintings provided clients with tangible images of the structures that were to be built. This method of creating architectural renderings has since been replaced by digital production; fortunately, some of Jack's original artworks remain in the care of his family. When Jack was a small boy his dad, a sportswriter, was assigned to cover a hockey game for the Philly paper and brought him along. After the game, one of the players from the winning team picked him up and treated him to a spin around the ice. It was a delightful ride that sparked Jack's interest in learning to skate ( lessons soon ensued, and what was to become his lifelong passion for skating took off. As a teenager, Jack's favorite coach was Cliff Thaell, who taught with his wife Edwina at several Philly area rinks and spent summers with her in Lake Placid. An important mentor and friend, Mr. Thaell eventually guided Jack in his pursuit of becoming a coach himself. One day while demonstrating how to use arms in spinning, Jack accidentally whacked another skater in the face, breaking her tooth. Not such a pleasant introduction, but it was destiny: that young skater was Joan LaCasse, who soon became his ice dancing partner and ultimately his partner in life. The pair spent a few summers training in Lake Placid in the late 40sa and early 50s and competed together at the national level. They married in 1956 and settled in Malvern, PA. In the late 1950s, Jack began managing a rink and teaching full-time with the Thaells while he and Joan started their family. Then in 1969 the Devitts learned that a coaching position at the Skating Club of Lake Placid had opened. For them, this was a dream job that they just couldn't pass up. In a brave move, they decided to go for it; they packed up their four kids in their red VW bus and drove north. The family landed in Placid on August 19th and never looked back. Jack and Joan (a.k.a. Mr. D. and Mrs. D. or sometimes, in Jack's case, "Mr. Devil") ran the SCLP for 15 years, accomplishing many "firsts" for the Club along the way. They coached the first local skaters through their US Figure Skating Association Gold tests and brought Lake Placid's first competitors, Leanne and Jeff Labrake, to the US Nationals in Junior and Senior Pairs. During their tenure, Jack and Joan choreographed and produced 14 Club shows with an extended family of dedicated volunteers, who helped design and build scenery and props, and make costumes. Jack spent many hours at home by his record player, selecting music for group numbers and matching just the right piece to each of his students for their solos. He had a unique knack for "seeing the music" that fit a skater's style and personality. After stepping down from the Club in 1984, Jack and Joan continued to teach and choreograph in Lake Placid, taking a one-year break to manage the Hershey Figure Skating Club in Pennsylvania. They taught well into their 80s and were founding members of the "Skating 80s," who convened every week for Coffee Club sessions, which usually included at least a few laps around the rink. In addition to coaching and choreography, Jack honed the crafts of skate sharpening, fitting boots, and setting blades to meet the individual needs of his skaters. He also created a line of skating-themed jewelry designs in silver and gold, which he continued to make over the decades. Other special accomplishments included earning his Masters Ratings from the Professional Skaters Guild of America, serving two terms on the PSGA Board, and induction with Joan into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 2012. He even designed a blade for figures ( the "Coronation Comet" ( which was manufactured by the John Wilson Company in England and sold worldwide for many years. When Jack's beloved wife Joan passed away in March 2017, his daughters brought him to Kingston to be near them. Although he never stopped missing his home and friends in the Adirondacks, he found joy in the beauty of the Hudson Valley and seeing Mary and Ruthie every day. Jack is survived by his children Jack Devitt Jr. and wife Lori Brock Devitt of Weaverville, NC; Mary Devitt and husband Joe Braby of Kingston; Ruth Ann Devitt-Frank and husband Kevin Frank also of Kingston; and Nancy Harpel and husband Bill Harpel of Eagle River, Alaska. He is also survived by his sister Ellen Kenny of Willow Grove, PA; 17 nieces and nephews; five grandchildren; three great grandchildren ( and scores of former students whose lives he touched with his nurturing instruction, goofy sense of humor, and inspiring love of figure skating. His was a rich, colorful, and beautiful life well-lived ( Bravo, Mr. D.! ( you'll be deeply missed by us all. Services for Jack will take place in May at St. Agnes Church and Cemetery in Lake Placid. Details to follow in the spring. The M. B. Clark, Inc., Funeral Home in Lake Placid, NY is in charge of arrangements. Please visit www.mbclarkfuneralhome.com to share a memory or leave condolences. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Skating Club of Lake Placid in Memory of Jack and Joan Devitt.To plant a beautiful memorial tree in memory of John Devitt, please visit our Tree Store
Memorial Donations in memory of Jack Devitt may be made to The Skating Club of Lake Placid, PO Box 528, Lake Placid, NY 12946. Please Indicate "Jack Devitt Donation" with your gift.
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