Gerald J. Smilgin

February 14, 1940January 3, 2021


1940 – 2021


Gerald Joseph Smilgin, SMIL, 80, of 1005 Judson Street Road, Canton, passed away on January 3rd, 2021. He blew the final whistle at his home that he loved with his family by his side. He was the son of Joseph and Helen Zelon Smilgin of Amsterdam, New York.

He is survived by his wife, Carol (Rowe), his children, Kelly Fielding Baker and her husband Steve, Cary, NC; Danielle Fielding Gray and her husband Patrick, Potsdam, NY; Heather Fielding Pharo and her husband John, Spencerport, NY; Jennifer Gifford and her husband Joseph, Delhi, NY; Carrie Smilgin and Polly Murphy both of Canton, NY; eleven grandchildren, Baileigh and Delaney Baker; Madison, Connor, and Mason Gray; Gavin and Gage Pharo; Benjamin Gifford and Amanda Cipperly; Jacob and Gabrielle Oatman; and one great-grandchild, Easton Cipperly.

Jerry Smilgin was born and raised in Amsterdam, New York. He attended Christian Brothers Academy and graduated from St. Mary’s Institute in 1957. He also attended St. Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont, and was a graduate of Potsdam State University. He was extremely proud to have also served in the United States Marine Corps as a field radio operator. SEMPER FI.

Jerry joined the staff of Canton Central School in 1966 as a social studies teacher. He worked there up until his retirement in 1999. During his time at Canton Central he became the junior varsity coach when the boys soccer program was founded. It was the start of what would become an outstanding legacy in North Country sports and athletics. He joined what has become a legendary coaching staff at Canton, featuring several Hall of Famers, which was assembled by noted administrator Abby Molnar. Jerry teamed with varsity coach Roger Dusharm in developing the Golden Bears boys soccer program. This is when the sport of soccer enjoyed a rapid growth spurt throughout the section. Canton quickly developed into one of the section's flagship boys soccer programs. It became very competitive at the Class C and Class B level when the state tournament was founded. That excellence continued through that season where Canton went undefeated. Jerry's JV teams forged a string of perfect seasons. At one time they won 76 straight games. Coach Smilgin injected his Marine Corps experience and the motto of "Semper Fi" (Always Faithful) into his teams who affectionately called his preseason practices “Smilgin's Boot Camp.”

“Smilgin’s Boot Camp” was credited by Varsity Coach Roger Dusharm as a key to preparing Canton boys soccer players for success at the JV and varsity levels, as well as in life. Both Coach Smilgin and Coach Dusharm were inducted into the New York State Boys Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame after their retirements. Smil matched his success as a social studies teacher and a coach by being an official for boys and girls soccer, as well as, boys and girls basketball at the high school and college levels.

Jerry served as president and interpreter for both the soccer and basketball officials and boards. He became extremely well known, very respected, and highly liked across the section for his ability to expertly and fairly call the games. He interacted seamlessly with coaches, players, and fans. He called championship games at the league, section, and regional levels. Smil was widely admired as a mentor and role model for younger officials.

In 1968, Jerry, Roger Dusharm, and Pat Casey were approached by Canton Boys Basketball Coach Jerry Hourihan to volunteer as ticket sellers and takers for the Section 10 Boys Basketball Tournament. They became the leaders of the Section 10 Admissions Crew. "The Crew" was eventually expanded to handle all the admission duties for the boys and girls basketball and hockey tournaments and regional contests hosted by Section 10. For over 50 years Jerry was a landmark taking tickets and greeting people at the door of the events while Roger and Pat sold tickets. All three have now passed on.

Canton Central faculty members and coaches Neil Riggs, Wayne Willette, and Lyle Newman have also served on "The Crew" for decades. Jerry received several honors for his coaching, officiating, and supporting Section 10 Athletics. Section 10 Athletic Coordinator Carl Normandin dubbed him as the section's unofficial “Goodwill Ambassador.”

Along with coaching and teaching, Jerry was also an ardent supporter of Canton Central sports and the teams of the area colleges. He was especially fond of the St. Lawrence University Men's Soccer team coached by former Canton Central player, Bob Durocher. He was also an avid NFL New York Giants fan. He followed his former students and student-athletes at the college and professional levels, as well as, in local adult leagues.

In the wake of the unexpected passing of longtime football, basketball, and baseball official Don Petty several years ago, Jerry teamed with Rick Bearor of Harrisville to establish the “Don Petty Re-Open Golf Tournament.” The tournament was founded to raise funds for Petty's family, as well as, to present the Don Petty Memorial Award to Section 10's Outstanding Football Player, and honoring individuals as having Outstanding Service to Section 10. The tournament also funds scholarships to the Brian Leonard Summer Football Camp and donations to deserving families and groups. Overriding his objection, the tournament committee honored Jerry with one of the awards in the second year of the tournament. Jerry also incorporated his dedication to Wounded Warriors. He would bring soldiers from Fort Drum to the Petty Tournament for recognition of their service with a day of golf and post golf gatherings. On November 11, 2020, Jerry was honored for his military service and support of Wounded Warriors by receiving recognitions from the Wounded Warriors Outdoor Adventures and the Canton VFW.

Beyond athletics and past his retirement, Jerry was involved throughout the Canton community. He was a former president of the Canton Library Board and a Trustee of the Morley Library. He was a voracious reader and never read a book he didn’t enjoy. He was also a proud member of the Potsdam Elks Lodge 2074 and the Canton VFW 1231.

Smil will be remembered for his very firm handshake, every “true story” he would tell, the nicknames he gave to most, and for his garage “office” gatherings.

Donations may be made to the Hospice and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley, 6805 US 11, Potsdam NY, 13676 or the Canton Golden Bears Booster Club, 99 State Street, Canton NY, 13617.

Due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic there will be no calling hours or funeral service at this time. Services will be scheduled for a later date. Arrangements are entrusted to the Garner Funeral Service. Condolences can be shared


No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.


Gerald J. Smilgin

have a memory or condolence to add?

Kathy Tornatore

January 17, 2021

I just heard about Mr. Smilgin’s death... my condolences to his family.
For a long time I have wanted to send him a letter about how he influenced my life. I waited too long and now have to say it in a memorial. Mr. Smilgin took a girl who felt she was insignificant and made her significant for 45 minutes a day. He instilled in me a love of history and influenced my decision to go into education. More importantly he taught me how to think and I am forever grateful. Thank you Mr. Smilgin .
Kathy Ferguson Tornatore Class of 1970

Tim Whalen

January 15, 2021

Reading these memories, it is easy to see why Jerry Smilgin was such a well-loved and respected man. For some, he was family. For others, he was an outstanding teacher or coach. And for a great many more, he was a dear friend.

My first athletic decision as I entered CHS in the mid-70's, was to play soccer for Coach Smilgin. As a young athlete, he taught us teamwork, the importance of sportsmanship and how being the fittest team helps you win games. In an era before summer soccer camps and routinely televised soccer games, most all of us learned the basics and rules of the game from "Smil."

Roger Dusharm started the Canton soccer program and Smil was his co-pilot, his right hand man. The success Smil had was integral to the success Coach Dusharm was able to build at the varsity level. I was fortunate to have been there in person that night in Oneonta in 2007, when the NYS soccer coaches recognized the importance and impact of a highly successful JV program, by enshrining Smil in their hall of fame.

I'm also glad I was able to continue to connect with him after that night in Oneonta. Smil always welcomed me to stop by and reminisce about the great times we had. We exchanged pictures and shared stories. He introduced me to his "referee crew". I let him know I still had my first term paper, from his Social Studies class, up in my attic. He laughed when I reminded him of my very first day of freshman soccer practice, when I arrived 15 minutes late. I was never again late for one of his practices.

I took a walk up to the soccer field last weekend. It was quiet and the field was snow-covered. I stood there for a few minutes, at the place where Smil patrolled the sidelines all those years ago. I remembered his voice, shouting out instruction and encouragement, the car horns beeping and student body cheering after another Canton goal.

Rest in peace Coach....

My heartfelt condolences to Carol and the Smilgin family.

Tim "Tate" Whalen

Dennis Shepard

January 13, 2021

I did not know Gerald but he was my brother as I am also a Proud Marine! I served with Mike Rowe in Vietnam as he was one of our Great Corpsman. My prayers to all the family. God Bless!

Darrick Hills

January 10, 2021

I graduated from CHS in 1979 and like so many others have fond memories of dodging his hockey stick on the way to class. Though he was never my coach, he taught me how to write a term paper. He brought history alive with his story telling - I felt like I knew the Stuart and Tudor royal families personally. At the start of every class, he would give us the name and author of a great work of literature and have us write it on the back cover of our notebooks. During my freshman year at Dartmouth College in a French class, the teacher looked out on the class and asked who could name the greatest work by Erasmus. All the kids from the Exeter’s and Andover’s of the world were silent. So I raised my hand and replied “In Praise of Folly”. Thanks to Gerry, I felt like I belonged.

Steven Skiff

January 8, 2021

So very sorry to hear of Jerry's passing. As a young coach Jerry opened his arms to make me feel like part of the Section X family. I will always treasure the wonderful memories of times spent together. My thoughts and prayers are with you Carol and your family. RIP my friend.

Sue Wilson-Thaller

January 8, 2021

I hated history back in the early 80s high school days. I was also quiet, very shy. The only class left for options at one point was Smilgan’s World War II class. I entered the class terrified - of both the topic AND the very exuberant Mr. Smilgan! Jerry has visited my restaurant a few times in the last couple of years, so I finally confessed to him.... his class was my all-time most memorable. I cried, I laughed, I was frequently nauseous during the class as we watched Life Time movies, or read books. My final report was on the Bataan Death March because he had leant me his copy of “Give Us This Day”. It was six months of Hell, but I still love history because of it. Smilgan’s dynamic teaching is one of my fondest high school memories - well, that and him sliding down the last couple of feet to his doorway in slippery shoes! I wasn’t into sports, but like the sports enthusiasts, he touched my life in a very positive manner. I’m grateful for his teaching, and for getting a chance to catch up with him in recent years. Condolences to his family and friends - we’ve all lost a great man ❤️

Bob Durocher

January 8, 2021

With the passing of Coach Smil, a part of me is gone too. This man was one of the most influential people in my life. He taught me so much about soccer but more importantly so much about life.
He took us as young boys & turned us into young men. He taught us no matter if we won, lost, or drew we did everything with class. He taught us to leave places better than we found it . He made us fit, strong, & tough. But he also taught us compassion and also gave us personal & team confidence. Above all he taught us one of the most important virtues as a player & a person was located under our left nipple. To have heart & always play with heart! So many things he taught me I was able to pass on to my players at St. Lawrence University. The culture that he created for us, was the same culture I tried to build at SLU. I was fortunate enough to learn from the best!
I was also fortunate to be a Golden Bear & have so many great coaches , teachers, and teammates. But my best athletic experience as a player was playing for Coach Smil. I'll never forget my sophomore year when we went 14-0 . We had so much fun & did so well when we go scored on, [only 4 goals all year because of a strong team and Pat "Leaky" Curry! (as coach would call him)] it was like we lost the game, even though the final score could have been 4-1. I actually considered not playing soccer again, because this season was so fulfilling. Coach gently persuaded me to play for Coach Dusharm for which I am also so thankful.
My relationship with Coach never diminished over the years. I don't think he ever missed one of our home soccer games over the 25 years I coached soccer at St. Lawrence University. He always made me smile & laugh. I always looked forward to seeing him drive by our house on Judson street blowing his special truck horn & us exchanging special hello gestures that we always did when we saw each other from a far. Coach, I will miss you, but never forgot what you gave to me. I love you Coach!

John Casserly

January 7, 2021

My condolences to the Smiligin family. He was one of a kind and will be missed. John Casserly

Tammy Aldous

January 7, 2021

Smil was a wonderful man whom I remember fondly from my high school and college sports days. He always had a smile and a hug to offer. My thoughts and prayers are with you all at this time.

Scott Niles

January 7, 2021

Smil was my mentor teacher as I was going through the Teacher Education program at SUNY Potsdam. He taught me so much in the 16 weeks of that semesterand made me a better student of life, teacher to many and to aspire to be a positive influence in other lives. Thank you Smil. Semper Fi