DUE WEST, S.C. (courtesy indexjournal.com and erskinesports.com) — Inventor, professor, coach, mayor, entrepreneur, judge, firefighter, hall-of-famer — under the many hats he wore, Harry Stille Jr.’s life was dedicated to public service and caring for the people of Due West and the surrounding areas.
Even in his final years, the 90-year-old Stille was a dogged defender of the taxpayers of Due West, serving on Town Council until his last day. Stille died January 6, leaving behind a legacy of love for his dear town.
Born in West Long Branch, New Jersey, Stille received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky and his doctorate from the University of Alabama. Following a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he was hired sight unseen as a professor at Erskine College in 1957. It’s a role he would stay in full-time for 34 years, and then continue teaching part time as a professor emeritus.
“He was very active in lots of different ways; he was always engaged in something,” said Brand Stille, Harry’s son. “I think a big part of his story is how he was welcomed and included in a community like Due West.”
Alongside his career as an instructor, Stille took on the role of head baseball coach for Erskine in 1959 and led the team through more than 400 wins before he stepped down in 1988. He would be honored with an induction into the Erskine Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982, and four years later he’d be honored by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame.
Brand said his father had more than just a love for the game, his heart was truly dedicated to his players and students. He would often keep up with former players, tracking their birthdays and maintaining friendships long after their tenure at Erskine had ended.
Whitey Adams said he started at Erskine the same time Stille did — Adams as a freshman and Stille as a professor. He said Stille was a rugged man, an instructor who knew how to push students to perform, but who handled his classroom fairly and wasn’t above cutting up with his students.
“You could have a lot of fun with him,” Adams said. “We had this competition once. We picked 10 sports and saw who was better than the other. We picked everything from ping-pong to pitching horseshoes.”
Stille produced a significant number of South Carolina’s leading baseball coaches. Click here for coverage on the Erskine baseball players who played under Stille’s leadership and went on to become 500+ win coaches in South Carolina.
Stille’s passion for baseball was unmatched, and his naturally creative mind was constantly innovating and pitching new ideas on how to improve things at the college. He changed how certain sports programs worked to increase safety, Adams said, and Stille patented two inventions both designed to make baseball safer.
“He had an infinite curiosity about a number of things,” said Stille’s daughter-in-law, Laura. “He was always learning, and I think that’s what kept his mind sharp as a tack even at 90.”
His first foray into politics came soon after he landed his Erskine role. He was elected to serve on Due West’s town council in 1961 and would go on to be elected mayor over the course of several nonconsecutive terms, serving in that role a total of 23 years.
He’d take on the role of a municipal court judge from 1962-78, served on multiple regional and state organizations and spent 12 years as a state representative for House District 11. Upon retiring from state politics in 2004, he was awarded the Order of the Palmetto for his decades of public service.
“When he ran for state office, that really started because the folks in Abbeville County wanted to consolidate the schools there,” Brand said. “He was a real advocate for Dixie and Due West, and he didn’t think consolidation was best for them.”
Stille returned to local politics in 2009, when he was voted back into the mayor’s seat in Due West. In later years he would return to Council and stayed an active part of local government up to his final days.
“He’s definitely one of the big icons,” Due West Mayor Jeannie Knight said. “He’s really part of the history of Due West. He was a public servant from the time he got to Due West and from then on.”
He might not have been born in Due West, but it’s the place he called home. When he returned as mayor in 2009, he recalled his out-of-the-blue hiring in 1957 that brought him here.
“I had never been to South Carolina before,” he said. “Right now, I wouldn’t trade Due West for any place on this planet.”