Obituary of Jerry Fishel
Jerry Fishel, of Ben Lomond, beloved coach and father
Jerry Fishel, March 16,1938 - Dec. 1, 2022
Jerry Fishel, a beloved mentor to so many in Santa Cruz County, joined his own spiritual mentor
on Dec. 1, passing away peacefully at his Ben Lomond home. In his passing, he leaves behind
a legacy of love among numerous interlocking communities of people whose lives he touched:
his family, church, teammates, students and more. The final couple of years for the former
professional baseball player and baseball and golf coach may have been dimmed by illness, but
the depth and breadth of his gifts remain as clear and bright as ever.
Jerry was a man for whom the phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ applies
without question. He was a large man, whose laughter could fill a room, whose cheers of praise
would make anyone feel like a champion, whose raw baritone could rattle pews, whose hugs
could fill the most anxious heart with love and whose advice could last a lifetime.
Some of Jerry’s athletic accomplishments were legendary: from his 37 years at Cabrillo College
in Aptos, including a state baseball championship, as a coach and P.E. instructor, to breaking
par at the Saint Andrews Old Course in Scotland.
His twin brother Larry tells how fearless and competitive Jerry was as a teen in Southern
California – how Jerry co-captained the varsity football team as a sophomore, did handsprings
off the high school diving board and was such a good catcher that he attracted Major League
scouts and bonus offers. Larry also recalled Jerry’s leadership and his faith, how he led the
football team in prayer before each game.
Jerry benefited from some off-season tutoring from Fullerton alum Del Crandall, catcher for the
then-Milwaukee Braves, and the Fishel twins both signed with the Chicago Cubs Triple-A minor
league Los Angeles Angels the day after they graduated from Fullerton High School in 1956
(two years before the Dodgers moved to town). After minor league stints in Twin Falls, Idaho.,
Crestview, Fla., Portland, Ore., and Bakersfield, Calif., Larry was released and got married, and
Jerry injured his arm in the 1958 season, ending his professional career.
The young Jerry, not yet 21, transformed disappointment into a new career path, as a coach. He
started helping out the baseball coach at Long Beach State while he was a student and
graduate student. He was tapped to lead the school’s first freshman baseball team in 1964 and
helped create a new freshman baseball league in Southern California,where his unbeaten team
won multiple championships.
His success captured the attention of Cabrillo College, and Jerry was named the school’s first
baseball coach in 1968. He would be an anchor of the community college’s athletics and P.E.
program for nearly four decades, serving as chair of the physical education program for several
“Jerry loved teaching,” Larry recalled. “One of his greatest joys was seeing his students, young
or old, succeed.” Mark Ramsey, Cabrillo's current athletic director, praised Jerry’s “long
successful career at Cabrillo College.”
It was at this point that the former baseball protege found a new niche for that home-run swing:
golf. Jerry taught himself the game, and soon became a scratch player, which led to a long stint
as the Cabrillo golf coach, and a self-published book, “The Educated Golf Swing.”
The golf coach began developing the step-by-step book as a teaching aid, consolidating his
theories about teaching and learning golf at the same time as he was polishing his skills as an
artist and illustrator. The 42-page book included illustrations by Jerry, photos by his son Sean
and was produced with the help of the biggest new love in his life, wife Sharon. It was widely
distributed among golf coaches and instructors nationally.
For the couple, who married in 1986, golf would become one of the many lifelong adventures
they would share. They founded, managed and sometimes won the annual St. Andrew’s
(Episcopal Church in Ben Lomond) Golf Tournament, held at the Boulder Creek (Calif.) and
Valley Gardens (Scotts Valley, Calif.,) golf courses. Jerry set up a driving net in his backyard,
where he would give golf lessons to friends and kids. Sometimes first-time lessons would be
accompanied by a bagful of beginner’s clubs, a gift from “the coach.”
On the cover of the golf instruction book is a black-and-white print of one of Jerry’s iconic
watercolor paintings of a lone golfer following through on a shot down a links-style fairway.
(Pebble Beach was one of Jerry’s favorite golf courses, and he often attended the annual
Pro-Am tournament in Carmel.)
In a letter, Ramsey praised Jerry’s “tutelage and ability to build team chemistry,” which led to five
conference championships in the 1970s and a state championship for the Cabrillo baseball
team in 1982.
Rudy Escalante, a catcher for the 1982 Seahawk championship team, praised Jerry’s positive
influence on him: “That season left the biggest sports impression on my life due to the chemistry
of the team that was created by Coach Fishel. He inspired us to do it for each other, it was a
true team. Most of the players on that team are still friends today.” Escalante recalled how Jerry
referred to his players as "fellers," and “he made it fun.”
Mark Eichhorn, a former Cabrillo player who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, played just
one year for Jerry, but said he loved “playing for ‘Fish’. ““He was a players coach, everyone liked
him,” Eichhorn recalled. “He was a great baseball man."
Ramsey wrote that another Cabrillo great, Dann Billardello, of Santa Cruz, who was inducted
into the Cabrillo Athletic Hall of Fame in 2020, played for Jerry Fishel in 1977, before being
drafted by the Dodgers in the 1979 MLB draft. Billardello was a catcher with the Cincinnati Reds
and later a minor league coach.
“When I look back,” Billardello recalled, “ I use a lot of what I learned from Coach Fishel when I
coach today. He taught us accountability and to have a reason why you do things.” The “why
you do things” was an example of the strong values that influenced and informed Jerry’s
coaching, teaching, parenting and mentoring. He wouldn’t hesitate, by example or by word, to
attach a life lesson to his teaching. His activities weren’t just hobbies, they were his passions.
Golf would become a major metaphor for Jerry and his approach to life: He played golf as he
lived: Each shot required creativity, care and thought; doing things the right way would produce
shots down the middle and consistently on target; when shots would stray, a positive attitude
would result in a strong recovery. It’s important to follow rules and etiquette, and to be
accountable for your shots.
Sharon and Jerry communicated those life lessons in years of service leading youth programs
at St. Andrew’s, chaperoning rafting and other adventures for generations of young people.
Sharon had founded a St. Andrew’s preschool before they were married. They exchanged vows
in St. Andrew’s and the historic 1901 redwood church was the center of much of his Ben
Lomond life and friendship. Jerry served several terms on the St. Andrew’s vestry, the church’s
board of trustees.
Jerry also would develop journeyman skills as a carpenter, handyman and woodworker. He
made signs for the church, and in several stints as Junior Warden, he repaired steps, walkways,
walls, windows, doors, garden sprinklers, even the church heating system. He built cabinets for
the preschool and the St. Andrew’s parish hall.
Whenever it was time for a big church event, such as the annual rummage sale, Jerry was the
person who built, painted and distributed the small road signs along Highway 9 advertising the
The Fishel garage at home wasn’t just filled with carpentry and home repair tools,it was home to
what his grandchildren believed was a magical toy workshop. Jerry’s elaborate doll houses were
legendary and he designed, carved and sanded toys.
The Fishels joined friends at tasting events at wineries along the coast and in the Santa Cruz
Mountains, and loved to travel. Jerry and Sharon traveled to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
They traveled to national parks across the U.S., first in a van then in a fifth-wheel camper.
Jerry’s legacy to many is less about accomplishments and more about his gifts – of time and
talent and mentoring. He was part of a volunteer repair crew at St. Andrew’s who would always
show up if a tree fell, deck steps broke or someone needed help taking trash to the landfill. Jerry
would always find a way to say ‘Yes.’
His love for sketching, then painting – oils and watercolors and pastels –grew over the years.
“He loved sharing his art work and woodworking projects with family and friends,” recalled
Jerry and Sharon sang in the St, Andrew’s church choir for decades. Often Jerry would be the
only male choir voice echoing in the small redwood church. He learned how to read music and
was not afraid to solo, if called upon.
Jerry Fishel was predeceased by his sister Vera. In addition to his wife, Sharon, and his two
brothers, Larry and Jim, he also is survived by children Sandi Lewandowski (Scott Laird), Susi
ValldeRuten (Henry), Kimberly Hudson (Nathan) Sheri Grove (Tim) Sean Fishel (Michelle); and
his cherished wards; Enid Bailot, and Jaime Butler Zeltner (Cindy ) ; plus 17 grandchildren: Laura
and Franki Lewandowski; Henry and Sabrina ValldeRuten; Logan, Sydney and Jacob Hudson;
Emily, Sarah and Kaitlyn Grove; Kaelyn, Devon, Max, Samantha and Dillon Fishel; Natalie and
Grace Webb; also several godchildren including Christina Leslie, Evan Rust, Adam Rust, Mary
Rust. Sarah Stevenson and Iain Holtzclaw.
Arrangements are by Benito and Azarro Pacific Gardens Chapel. The memorial will be at 10
a.m., Monday, Jan. 16, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 101 Riverside Ave., Ben Lomond,
Calif., with a reception following at the Felton Community Hall, 6191 Highway 9, Felton, Calif..
Donations in lieu of flowers would be appreciated: Send to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, P. O.
Box 293, Ben Lomond, Calif.