By all accounts, even his own, Ernie Prudente loved to talk and laugh and reminisce.
A three-sport star at Haverford High School, an offensive tackle during Penn football’s glory days in the late-1940s, and a beloved coach at both Haverford and Swarthmore colleges for 44 years, the Ardmore native was at his best when he was swapping stories with former teammates or talking strategy with his players.
“Ernie was the best storyteller of them all,” said Dick Rosenbleeth, 88, a defensive end on those old Quakers teams. “He was warm and friendly and fun. So when we all got together, we’d always look around for Ernie.”
Ernest J. Prudente, 92, of Wallingford, died Tuesday, April 14, at Bryn Mawr Hospital after a stroke.
Mr. Prudente’s list of athletic achievements is long. Winningest baseball coach in Swarthmore history. Member of Swarthmore, Penn, Delaware County, and small college halls of fame. High school football all-star at Haverford and Friends Central. Semi-pro baseball player.
But it was just as much his personal warmth and sense of fellowship that made Mr. Prudente so admired.
"I never met anyone more ‘human,’ " Rosenbleeth said.
“As a coach, professor, husband, father, mentor and friend, he positively influenced innumerable people,” Adam Hertz, athletic director at Swarthmore, said in a statement.
Mr. Prudente’s family put it this way in a tribute: “A natural master storyteller [and talker], he had an uncanny ability to remember names and specific moments in sports and always delivered his stories with a positive message and a twinkle in his eye.”
Born in Ardmore to Italian immigrants, Mr. Prudente served in the Navy during World War II. He finished high school at Friends Central afterward and became a “Mungerman” by playing alongside All-Americans Chuck Bednarik and Reds Bagnell under Penn’s hall of fame football coach, George Munger.
“He was strong, fast, and tough” as a player, Rosenbleeth said.
Mr. Prudente earned degrees in education at Penn and, while playing in local semi-pro baseball leagues, went on to coach football, basketball, and baseball at Haverford College. He moved on to Swarthmore in 1969 and spent the next 27 years coaching football, basketball, and baseball. He became a physical education professor in 1992.
Mr. Prudente retired from coaching in 1995 as Swarthmore’s second-winningest basketball coach and tops with 216 baseball victories. Along the way, he energized Swarthmore’s intramural sports program and was so involved with the school that he was inducted into its athletics hall of fame and had the new baseball press box and annual sportsmanship awards named after him.
In his final years, Mr. Prudente especially looked forward to catching up with his “Mungermen” teammates at their annual reunion at a Penn football game.
When he was a youngster, Mr. Prudente’s son, Ernie L. Prudente, worked as his father’s batboy and scorekeeper at Swarthmore.
“He was my hero and role model,” he said.
In addition to his son, Mr. Prudente is survived by his wife of 62 years, Matilda; daughters Ann, Susan and Linda; and many family members.