ELMHURST — Cathedral Prep School and Seminary alumnus Steve Somers is no stranger to giving back to his high school, including donating its new science lab and establishing scholarships in his parents’ names over the last two decades.
On June 25, Somers continued his benevolence, pledging an endowment of $1 million for scholarships to the all-boys Catholic high school and seminary, in honor of his former baseball coach, Jim Dilg.
“While I didn’t have a calling to become a priest, I do feel, as a layperson, that I have a vocation to help other people,” said Somers, who graduated in 1978. “After my experiences at Cathedral Prep, I believe you have a responsibility to make sure you carry the torch forward and share the teachings of Christ.”
“I used to say to my father, ‘Someday I’m gonna be a priest, a baseball player, an astronaut, a doctor, and cure cancer,’ ” he added, “and he would always say to me, ‘Steve, dream big, be the best that you can be, but don’t forget about the people that helped you, and pay it forward.’ ”
“That has always been a resounding theme in my life,” Somers said.
Father James Kuroly, Cathedral Prep’s rector-president, explained Somers’ gift will help future students attend Cathedral Prep, likely beginning in the 2022-23 academic year.
“You think about the generosity of one individual and realize how much one individual can make an impact,” Father Kuroly said. “This generous donation will be able to fund five or six scholarships every year and give students a chance to come to Cathedral Prep.” Cathedral Prep Principal Richie Diaz, a 1996 graduate, added: “I consider him a personal friend and inspiration, and his giving of this unbelievable gift will surely allow Cathedral to do for students what it did for both of us — support and challenge them on their journeys of becoming happy, healthy, spiritual, and smart Catholic leaders.”
Somers’ pledge will be the largest private gift in Cathedral Prep’s history, according to Louis D’Amico, the school’s business manager.
“For someone to make a gift in honor and in thanksgiving of someone that made a difference in his life, is huge,” D’Amico added. “I cried because I know how much Jim means to everyone because he was my coach too.”
Somers said Dilg played a huge role during his high school years, teaching him that nothing was impossible and encouraging him to take risks as Somers would often steal home from third base during his junior and senior years on the school’s varsity baseball team.
“There was one particular practice before the season began and Coach Dilg told the team, ‘I’m going to teach you the technique on how to steal from first to second, second to third, and then the easiest base to steal home,’ ” Somers explained. “I was gullible, but I was also kind of fearless.”
“Lo and behold, the first time I got on third base in the first game of the season, I stole home,” he continued.
Somers stole home 15 times during his two years on the team — a record that still stands today, according to Dilg.
During one of the post-season sports banquets, Dilg presented Somers with the “most valuable player” award, mentioning that Somers did something that even he couldn’t believe he could do in stealing home so many times.
“I was like, ‘Wow, he told me home was the easiest base to steal,’ ” Somers said. “I didn’t think it was anything special, but after hearing Coach Dilg say this, I started thinking about it.”
“It was the first time I felt like I really did something special and that I could do things that I never thought I could,” he said, “which gave me the confidence for the rest of my life to try to do things that other people didn’t think I could do.”
Dilg’s encouragement to steal home subconsciously inspired Somers to major in chemistry and play college basketball — a subject he had never learned and a team sport he never played in high school — when he later attended St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. More than 40 years later, among many other notable accomplishments, Somers now owns a chemical company in Pennsylvania that makes flavors and fragrances.
“I thought, ‘How could I ever repay this man?’ ” Somers said. “I could never, but what I could do is pay it forward in his name, and call it the ‘Coach Jim Dilg — You Too Can Steal Home’ scholarship to help students afford Cathedral Prep with a remembrance of somebody that did amazing things with the idea that they too can be impacted in their lives the way I was.”
When Somers made the announcement at Cathedral Prep’s annual golf outing, which was held in honor of the beloved baseball coach, Dilg — like many others — was shocked. “But, I’m not surprised because that’s what Steve is all about — wanting to give back to countless numbers of future students to receive the same education he had,” Dilg said.
“I’m so proud of him and what he’s accomplished in life,” Dilg continued. “And he’s the type of person that he’s not yet finished.
He’s already looking at the next thing that he wants to do.”