The St. John’s University community is mourning the loss of longtime Athletic Director Jack Kaiser, who died Wednesday, May 25, at the age of 95.
He was remembered as a “foundational figure” in the history of St. John’s serving as the “patriarch of the Red Storm athletic department” for parts of nine decades, beginning as a standout three-sport athlete in the 1940s and ending with his tenure as the department’s athletic director emeritus from 1995 until his death.
Kaiser was one of seven athletic directors that banded together to create the Big East Conference in 1979, forever changing the history of college basketball.
“We live in thankfulness for everything that Jack was and his enduring impact on St. John’s and the Big East Conference. As a player, a coach, an athletic director, and especially as a supporter of St. John’s, Jack was a difference-maker. We celebrate his life well-lived,” SJU President Reverend Brian Shanley said. “While the baseball stadium bears his name, Jack’s footprint on the trajectory of St. John’s athletics and his personal impact on our students transcends generations of Johnnies across multiple sports. Long before I came to know Jack personally, I knew of his influence on college sports, a boundless one that only endures and expands. Jack leaves behind an immeasurable legacy and commitment to athletic excellence. May he rest in peace.”
As the school’s athletic director from 1973 to 1995, Kaiser oversaw the men’s basketball team which was among the top five winningest programs in the country during that span. A staunch advocate for equality on all fronts, Kaiser instituted women’s varsity athletics at SJU beginning in 1974, setting the foundation for the 10 successful Red Storm women’s teams sponsored by the university today.
“We are saddened to hear of Mr. Kaiser’s passing and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” SJU Director of Athletics Mike Cragg said. “Long before I arrived in Queens, I knew of and respected Mr. Kaiser for his outstanding reputation in the field of college athletics. Upon taking this job, he was one of the first people to whom I placed a phone call. I will always cherish his wisdom, wit and friendship.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Kaiser attended St. John’s Prep before enlisting in the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II. Upon returning home in 1946 he enrolled at SJU, where he was a three-sport star for the Redmen, decades before the name change to Red Storm. His greatest success came on the baseball team, and after college, he signed with the Boston Red Sox. As an outfielder his pathway was blocked by the likes of Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio, and so Kaiser decided to accept a standing offer to join the SJU baseball coaching staff, which he took over in 1956.
The baseball stadium at SJU is named in his honor. The most valuable player award at the Big East Conference tournament held at Madison Square Garden also bears his name.
“We are saddened to learn of the death of Jack Kaiser, a Big East founding father who saw the potential an Eastern-based basketball conference and helped bring our league into being 43 years years ago,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said. “Jack’s passion for collegiate athletics went beyond basketball. As a star baseball player at St. John’s, he led the team to the 1949 College World Series, and in his 18-year career as head coach at his alma mater, he guided the team to 11 postseason appearances, including three trips to the College World Series. We now proudly honor the outstanding performer at the Big East Basketball Championship with the Jack Kaiser Most Outstanding Player Award. Jack was a model athletic administrator who always conducted himself with class and dignity, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to the St. John’s community on their deeply felt loss.”
Visitation hours will be Monday, May 30, from 2 to 6 p.m. and Tuesday, May 31, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home located at 61-40 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park.
A mass will be held on Wednesday, June 1, at 10:30 a.m. inside St.Thomas More Church on the Hillcrest campus of St. John’s University.