Friends, family and colleagues honor one of Cape May’s finest. Compiled by Kate Chadwick and Diane Stopyra.
LIEUTENANT Colonel Eugene Sole, better known to friends and family as “Sole Man,” passed away at age 48 on August 11 after a courageous three-year battle with cancer. Gene, a devoted family man, lived in Cape May with his loving wife of nearly 20 years, Sarah “Betsy” (née Craig) Sole, and his two sons, Jackson and Tyler, where he taught his boys the importance of rising to every occasion, even the difficult ones. Gene’s family, including father-in-law Toby Craig and brother-in-law David Craig, are proud to have loved and learned from a man of such great honor.
Toby Craig: Every father wants his daughter to marry the perfect guy, and that usually never happens. But it happened for Betsy. Even if you met Gene only once, you learned something from him, something about life, and that is important. That is one of his legacies.
Jackson Sole: The fact that he was a great man goes without saying – the amount of people who showed up for his services was evidence of that. He had a positive impact on just so many lives, and that will go on.
Tyler Sole: My father taught me so many important things, from riding a bike to looking someone in the eye when you shake their hand. I’ve always wanted to be like him, and when people have told me over the past week or so, “You remind me of your dad,” or “You look like your dad,” that’s been a huge comfort to me; it’s given me courage. It’s the nicest thing anyone can say to me. As much as I want to be like him, he taught me to be my own man.
David Craig: Gene was honest, humble and genuine. I’m so grateful my sister brought him into our lives. In his short 48 years, he did what it would take most people an entire lifetime to accomplish.
One of Gene’s many accomplishments was his success as an educator. As a soccer coach and teacher in the Lower Township district, vice-principal of Lower Cape May Regional High School, and, most recently, principal of the Richard M. Teitelman Middle School, Gene earned the respect of his colleagues, including John Miller, David Smith, Shelley Vogelei, Dan Cappelletti and Jim Wadlow.
John Miller: I hope people look at me someday the way they looked at him. He was a man’s man, but sweet and compassionate at the same time. He constantly sacrificed his personal life for others. If you knew anything about him, you were in awe.
David Smith: He was my assistant soccer coach, which is just so funny, because I was the one learning from him. Once we had a kid who decided, after three years on the team, that he no longer wanted to play. I admit, I’d given up on him, but Gene wouldn’t. He suggested we drive to his house, where Gene talked to him. Gene convinced this kid to play, and I know he was so happy. If not for Gene, he would have regretted giving up for the rest of his life.
Shelley Vogelei: Gene went into everything he did with his heart, with passion, and with everyone’s best interests in mind. He didn’t have to rule with an iron fist, he ruled with his heart. I can’t tell you how many troubled kids Gene was there for – he inspired them and made them want to be better. One of my sweetest memories is from our Christmas show, when Gene would get on stage in front of 800 kids and sing. He was the Sole Man, and let me be one of his Sole Girls, singing and dancing with him. You knew how much the kids loved it because afterward, they were hanging out the bus windows, waving to us. When Gene announced his retirement, we had shirts made that read, “Gene Sole: The Heart and Soul of Richard Teitelman Middle School.”
Jim Wadlow: Twenty years from now, people will still be talking about Gene; he was that kind of guy. When kids were up to mischief, he handled it in a cool, calm manner. He disciplined in such a way that kids sought his guidance. Gene was a father figure to those kids, and he always made you feel like you were the only one in the room.
Dan Cappelletti: One of Gene’s favorite sayings was, “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give,” and he gave so much. He helped me run a weight lifting class at 6:30am for about 30 kids. No one worked harder than Gene – a man’s man, but a gentle soul. I lost my brother at a young age, and Gene consoled me. He treated all his students like they were his kids. Even when he had to discipline them, they left his office thanking him.
Tyler Sole: I’ve had so many people tell me over the years, “Your dad suspended me,” or “Your dad gave me my first detention,” but I saw those people at his memorial service, and that says a lot.
Don Montgomery, Jerry Griffin, Bucky Toler, and Meg Turner were just four of the students who turned to Gene for guidance.
Don Montgomery: I skipped class once, and Mr Sole caught me. I thought I could outrun him, and I was wrong; he was so fast, and he actually ran after me. He wanted the best for his students; he was always looking out for them.
Jerry Griffin: I was a student athlete, and he was always in the stands, cheering us on. It was comforting to see an administrator there. I feel lucky to know his two amazing sons, who are carrying on his legacy.
Bucky Toler: My senior year, I got in some trouble outside of school, and Mr Sole found out. He called me to his office, and said, “I don’t care that this isn’t school-related.” He taught me that my todays affect my tomorrows. He taught me to think things through. Even after I graduated, he always shook my hand whenever we saw one another. He made that school better just by being there.
Meg Turner: Mr Sole taught me to never stop believing in myself, and to be strong at my weakest moments.
Even after the school day ended, Gene devoted his time to the young people of the Cape May community. In April of 2004, he resurrected a defunct Cub Scout troop, Troop 73. As Scoutmaster, Gene led his patrol in hiking, canoeing and skiing trips, as well as the annual Fourth of July parade. A record 13 boys earned Eagle Scout status under Gene’s seven-year leadership, including 17-year-old Billy Kelly. The Troop 73 Committee Chair, David Von Savage, as well as Gene’s assistant Scoutmasters, Don Schifferdecker and Rob Elwell, Jr., were continually impressed with Gene’s ability to lead.
Don Schifferdecker: He taught us all. He never gave up. He prepared his boys for manhood. Once, while mountain biking in North Jersey, my bike chain broke. Gene gave me his, and then he ran with my bike for five miles. That’s the kind of guy he was, a giver.
Rob Elwell: In 2008, we took eight boys from our troop on a ten-day hike in New Mexico. On the second day, someone checked the map and realized we’d gone off course. We’d been headed the wrong way for an hour, and we had 70-pound packs on our backs. It was very discouraging for the kids, but Gene said, “Look, we’re in this together.” He knew the boys and how to work with them. He never left anyone – or anything – behind. Once, after a half-day hike up a mountain, it started thundering and hailing. One of the guys had a metal backpack, so Gene carried it for him. Even lightning was no match for Gene.
David Von Savage: I am confident that the scouts, students, and all the individuals from this community who have had the privilege of being influenced by Gene’s leadership will go on to live better lives because of him. Leader Gene lived his life totally committed to what matters most: faith, family and country, and he did it with grit and wit.
Billy Kelly: I’m not from West Cape May, so I didn’t know anyone when I joined the troop. Mr Sole and his sons accepted me with open arms and made me feel so welcome. They acted like we’d known each other for years. When I was twelve, I went to my first summer camp. There was a mile swim in the pool that I was wary of participating in because no one I knew was doing it. Mr Sole stepped up, and we did it together. I struggled, and he pushed me the whole way. He was a great man. He was an inspiration.
Gene was an inspiration on the battlefield as well, where he valued serving his country as much as he did his community. Commissioned as an officer after his graduation from the University of Florida, Gene served in the Marine Corps for 20 years, leading infantry and security force units at Camp Pendleton, California; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Charleston, South Carolina; and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He served in the Gulf War and Somalia, and he completed two tours in Iraq. Before retiring as Lieutenant Colonel, Gene was awarded the Bronze Star medal for his courage. Friends and fellow Marines Mark Toal, Larry Brown and Paul Mullock, as well as members of the Lower Township School community, knew Gene to be a true Marine, in and out of uniform.
Larry Brown: Gene and I and Colonel Mark Toal, USMC, have been best of friends since we were young Lieutenants over 25 years ago, and our families formed a close bond too. Gene was my younger son’s godfather and was truly a man for others. Gene led with a quiet strength, easy way, and keen sense of humor. He was a dedicated father, devoted, loving husband, and a great American. I was proud to be counted among his friends and, like everyone he met, I will miss him terribly.
Mark Toal: Gene Sole lived life to the fullest as he selflessly served his God, family, country and Marine Corps. He was a man of impeccable character who always knew the right thing to do, and did it. Gene lived a life of service, both on our nation’s battlefields and educating the future of this country. In doing so, he touched many people and made a positive impact on an entire community.
Paul Mullock: Mr Sole was my inspiration to go into the Marines. He was a father figure, an outstanding teacher, and an inspiration to everyone he knew.
Kathy Kint: My son Andrew was at the high school in 2003, when Gene was disciplinarian there. Gene was called to service and left. Then, on graduation day, to everyone’s surprise, he came walking down the field toward the bleachers, in full military dress, white gloves and all, and members of the graduating class and their families stood up and gave him a standing ovation.Those kids had the highest respect for him. It made me cry to see such loyalty among that class that day.
Loyalty was one of Gene’s greatest attributes in every one of his pursuits – and he had a great deal of them. In college, he served as vice president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Later, he played in a bluesy jazz band called Old School, coached little league baseball and football, held the position of treasurer for the Cape May County Republican Party, and served as a volunteer in the Cape May City Fire Company, where he also played third base on the softball team. Fellow firefighters Ed Zebrowski, Rick Lundholm, and Rob Elwell, Jr., remember him as someone everyone wanted to be around.
Ed Zebrowski: Gene had a presence about him. It wasn’t overbearing, though. It was subtle, respectful, good-natured, down to earth.
Rick Lundholm: Gene had influence. He was a natural born leader. It’s hard to put into words a guy who was so much to so many people.
Rob Elwell, Jr.: He was proud, he was unbelievably strong, and a good listener. He really heard what you were saying. And everyone who heard what Gene was saying was usually laughing. Though he was a serious and dedicated man, Gene was playful, with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor that never ceased to brighten a room.
David Craig: Gene believed that the world is a great place, and you have to laugh; you have to laugh all the time.
Jim Wadlow: I have so many fond memories. Gene was a practical joker. He went to the University of Florida, and it was the only thing I held against him; I went to Florida State. He would send me UF press clippings about their latest football heroes, and I would send him championship memorabilia. I can remember going to my car and seeing it covered with gator regalia. On top of the antennae, there was a UF baseball cap. I couldn’t take it off; it was too funny, and Gene is the only guy I would have left it on there for. People turned to Gene to brighten their days. At school, he instilled the discipline that these kids needed, that they craved. The next minute, he’d crack a joke and have you doubled over laughing.
Toby Craig: When I think of Gene, I think of smiling every time I see him. He loved Elvis, and thought he could sing like him. We’d go out as a family each year on my wife’s birthday. Gene would excuse himself, and then he’d be in the bushes or on the balcony, singing to my wife.
David Smith: His humor was a gift. Once, the art class was doing a project. They would pick a faculty member, take a picture of that person’s face, blow it up, and divide it into sections, and then have students draw those sections. They did that with Gene, and the final product was six feet by six feet. It hung in the hallway, and after about two weeks, I had to do it; I drew devil horns and a mustache on it. They figured out it was me, so Gene pranked me back. He brought me into the principal’s office, and they introduced me to a woman from the cafeteria who was playing the part of a student’s mother. I was told that this woman was very upset, because I’d ruined her daughter’s art project. That’s the kind of guy Gene was. He had a serious, stressful job, but he could joke around, and he could always make you smile.
As the entire Cape May community grieves the loss of Gene Sole, it also draws strength from the lessons he taught, and from the strength of his family, particularly Betsy, Tyler and Jackson. Members of the community, including family friend Dennis Spilker, feel blessed to know Gene’s sons.
Dennis Spilker: Through the past few days the quote that rings in my head, and will forever remain, came from Gene’s son, Tyler (and I know he spoke for Jackson as well) when he said, “I want to be like my dad.” Tyler said this at the conclusion of his dad’s funeral mass in a tone that conveyed strength, gratitude and respect. That was Tyler being just like his dad. Thank you, Gene for so many priceless and timeless gifts.
Toby Craig: Gene trained his boys well. They are mature. They are well-respected. And they are leaders, just like their father.
Dan Cappelletti: Guys like Gene, they earned their ticket to happiness already; we’re still working on ours. Luckily for us, when you meet his boys, you meet Gene.