When Greg Casey failed to show up for a morning group exercise class at the Kaiserman JCC on Aug. 26, a few eyebrows were raised. When he also no-showed to a synagogue league basketball game he was supposed to referee that night, red flags flew.
The worst of those concerns were realized the next day when Casey was found dead at his Springfield, Delaware County, home. He was a few days shy of 60.
For anyone who had visited the JCC during the past 40 years, Casey was a fixture. Whether he was playing, coaching or refereeing basketball, taking exercise classes, volunteering at the front desk or simply chatting with members and staff, Casey was omnipresent.
And the guy most people referred to by his last name left a big impact on the JCC community, Jewish and otherwise.
“He’s part of the soul of the institution of this building,” JCC CEO Amy Krulik said. “Our hearts are still beating, but they’re a little broken. You realize how many people he impacted and how deep that impact was.”
Casey grew up in Overbook Park, attended Friends’ Central School and graduated from Eastern University, where he played baseball, according to his younger brother, Ken.
He soon gravitated to the JCC and spent much of his time there, even though he wasn’t Jewish.
“We had a ton of Jewish friends,” Ken Casey explained. “Overbrook Park was all Jewish.”
While Casey was known to many, he was a private person. He was so private that even his relatives didn’t know what governmental agency he worked for as an information technology director.
“He was just a homebody and the JCC — that was his life,” sister-in-law Karen Casey said. “It was just a simple man’s life. What you saw was what you got.”
The JCC was clearly more important to him than the IT job.
“The best day of his life was the day he retired,” Karen Casey said. “He hated his job. He called me to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
That retirement about five years ago left him more time for the JCC where, for the first time, he got paid to work at the front desk.
Casey’s legacy at the JCC is extensive, as he impacted generations of basketball aficionados as a player (an excellent point guard), coach, referee and as a league organizer.
“Greg was the glue that held men’s basketball together at the JCC from the day Kaiserman JCC opened. On Sunday mornings, we would all line up for free throws (with the first 10 to make a shot playing in the subsequent pickup games),” longtime player Sam Abloeser wrote in an email. “We always let Greg take the first one. In my mind, it was a sign of respect and thanks for everything that he did for us. And he always made it.”
“Unless he didn’t like who was in line behind him,” quipped fellow longtime player Steve Miller.
Plenty of younger players learned from Casey, too.
“Casey — I thought that was his first name for a solid decade before I ever heard of ‘Greg’ — was my first basketball coach. In that role, 25-plus years ago, he taught us (me and a bunch of your kids) how to dribble, how to shoot and how to play,” wrote Tzvi Twersky, now the chief marketing officer for Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. “He also, at the same time, taught us a ton about life. And while we didn’t all grow to be as nice as him on the court, we all learned how to be punctual, how to be respectful and how to be responsible.”
“I’m fortunate to have two high school and college basketball players as sons,” said Adam Sherman, a longtime basketball player and former JCC president. “Greg was instrumental in getting them engaged in the sport at a very young age.”
After Casey abruptly retired from playing basketball — without ever really explaining why — he turned his attention to refereeing, becoming a mainstay at games around the area.
Paul McShane, president of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association suburban Philadelphia chapter, said Casey took his craft seriously.
“He kept working at it, going to clinics and going to camps,” he said, noting that Casey improved over time, despite the difficult nature of the job. “He never took it personally. He always kept his temperament.”
When he wasn’t refereeing, Casey made a legion of other friends at group exercise classes, always wearing a sweatshirt to make sure he worked up a lather.
Despite his apparent excellent physical condition, Karen Casey said the medical examiner told her that her brother-in-law suffered from an enlarged heart and hypertension.
She said Ken Casey also suffers from heart issues and often suggested that his brother get checked by a doctor. Greg Casey told her that he did, but she isn’t sure if he ever really did — and hopes that her brother-in-law’s unexpected death can serve as a warning to others.
Visitation for Casey is set for Sept. 7 (the day he would have turned 60), from noon to 1:15 p.m., followed by services at 1:30 p.m. at the D’Anjolell Memorial Home of Broomall.
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