As the Northwood University Family learned of the sudden passing of Rick Smoliak, hundreds of students, alumni, faculty and staff gathered to pay homage to the much loved coach, and to acknowledge the lessons he’d taught both on and off of the baseball field.
Northwood University Florida Campus President, Dr. Tom Duncan noted that “Coach Smoliak had a special way of connecting with his players. His influence in their lives, and on their lives, grew over time. Rick Smoliak’s coaching and teaching will continue to affect a generation of Northwood Florida baseball players, but it will also affect the next generation due to the lives that Rick touched in his years as the Seahawk skipper.”
A talented athlete with a passion for sports, Smoliak, who was drafted to play baseball for the New York Mets in 1964, went on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from the University of Minnesota, where he also played ice hockey, and later received his Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He was the Athletic Director and Head Baseball Coach at Stony Brook University on Long Island before taking on the same roles at Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Florida. Also an avid tennis player and pro, he enjoyed teaching lessons throughout his life.
“Coach Smoliak would remind me ‘these are the best days of your life,’ every time I spoke with him, as he did all his players. More than just a coach, he was a man of great integrity, a leader, a mentor, my Florida ‘dad’ and most importantly my friend. He will be dearly missed by his family, his Northwood family of coworkers and players, and all those who got the chance to spend time with him,” said Maria Pumarejo, a 2008 graduate who had first joined Northwood as an employee to work under coach Smoliak as an intern.
A true family man, the much-loved student leader will be missed by his loving wife of 33 years, Barbara; his children Sheri, Sandy, Scott, A.J. and Brittany; six grandchildren Justin, Dillon, Jessica, Julia, Lucas and Jacob; three sons-in-law Keith, Roger, and Dennis; daughter-in-law Sam; sister-in-law Linda; niece Meredith and her husband Luther, nephew Jason, and niece Mary. He will also be fondly remembered by his coaching fraternity, current players, and countless alumni, all of whom meant the world to him.
“As a family, we’ve always know what type of man my Dad was,” said Smoliak’s son Scott. “But, it has become so abundantly clear in the days since his passing that it didn’t end there. The number of lives that my father has affected in a positive way goes far beyond what I could have ever imagined and because of this, our family’s hearts have been filled with so much love and joy. As an educator and coach, his first and number one priority was to have the young men and women that he saw come through Northwood University earn a degree. Without that, everything he worked for was meaningless. To quote my dad, “We will all experience success continuously if we believe in ourselves, work hard, have passion for what we do and we live our lives by doing what is “Right!” “I LOVE my/our FAMILY!” I think this sums my father up perfectly and I am proud to have been able to call him MY FATHER,” he said.