BERLIN – The local community lost a giant this week with the passing of Steve Falck, a surfer, coach, businessman, father, husband and perhaps, most importantly, a shining example of how to handle adversity with dignity, class and grace.
Falck, 64, died peacefully at Coastal Hospice at the Lake in Salisbury last Sunday after a lengthy battle with Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA), a rare neurological disease for which there is no cure or treatment. As if life hadn’t dealt Falck a tough hand already, he was also battling prostate cancer in the waning months of his life.
Despite the debilitating disease that curtailed many of his favorite activities, including surfing and everything to do on the water, Falck’s spirit remained strong and he remained active until the end and set a perfect example in the community he loved.
Between running his business, Stephen Falck Construction, and coaching girls’ lacrosse at Worcester Prep and for Beach Lacrosse, and volunteering for the Surfrider Foundation and countless other activities, Falck was able to touch the lives of so many others in the local community.
In 2009, he was diagnosed with MSA, and as the disease began to take its toll, he was forced to close his construction business, but he continued to coach and teach and create his artwork and furniture, which was displayed at the family’s stores in Berlin.
Even after MSA took his ability to surf, local shaper Jon Ashton created a special belly board with handles that allowed him to get out in the ocean he loved so much. He also continued to coach girls’ lacrosse at Worcester Prep right through the end of the spring season, and while he was often seen around the fields with a walker over the last few months, his disability did not prevent him from imparting his vast knowledge to his young charges.
As the word spread of his passing this week, his family including his wife, Patty, and daughters, Blair and Brooke, received countless letters, notes, emails and calls from well-wishers from around the community. Blair Falck Parsons this week thanked the vast circle of friends and family and the entire community and fondly recalled her father on Facebook.
“Thank you so much for the outpouring of love and support for our family during this extremely difficult time,” she said. “It is with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to our incredible dad yesterday. He gave us more happiness than we could have ever asked for and fought harder than any of us could have imagined. We know he is finally at peace and no longer suffering, and hopefully, surfing a perfect, never-ending wave.”
Close family friend Dee Gilbert, who owns and operates The Nest in Berlin, spent countless hours with the Falck family during the waning weeks of Steve’s life. Like so many, Gilbert said she often wondered why a person with the attributes of Falck would be stricken with such an insidious disease, but as she spent more and more time with him and watched how he handled the adversity, the reason became clear to her.
“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” she said. “The thing that keeps coming back to me is why would this happen to such a great guy? It was because it was up to him to teach us all grace and humility.”
Gilbert said Falck set a shining example on how to handle the most difficult challenges for those dealing with seemingly innocuous day-in, day-out woes.
“I keep thinking of how we all complain about having a lousy day, or it’s too hot or whatever, but when I went to see Steve, he never complained,” she said. “Instead, with everything he was going through, he would ask me how my day was going. He was very humble and I think the plan was for him to teach us all of that and show us how to handle adversity with dignity and grace.”
Local surfer and paddle boarder Sandy Deeley was close to Falck and the two often surfed together over the last couple of decades. Last year, Deeley and another family friend and ocean enthusiast Teene Froiseth trained for and competed in the famous Molokai 2 Oahu World Championship paddleboard race in Hawaii to raise funds for the Steve Falck Foundation.
The annual race crosses the famed Ka’iwi Channel known for its dangerous currents, high winds, big waves and an occasional shark or two that stretches 26 miles between Molokai and Oahu. The Ka’iwi Channel is literally translated as the “Channel of Bones” by those who have tested it and failed.
Deeley is headed back to Hawaii for the Molokai 2 Oahu championships this week on a different mission. Throughout his illustrious surfing career, Falck never made it to Hawaii, but a part of him is going there this week. Deeley said he will paddle across the Ka’iwi Channel with a portion of Falck’s remains and then spread his ashes at the foot of the famed Duke Kahanamoku statue on Waikiki.
“Steve was a true waterman in every sense of the word and a recognized legend in the Ocean City surfing community,” said Deeley this week. “Most importantly, Steve set an example for the rest of us on how to lead our lives as friends, husbands and fathers. His wife Patty, and daughters, Blair and Brooke, showed all of us how love and devotion to family can carry you through the most difficult of times. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”
Beyond his life as a legendary local surfer, another of Falck’s major contributions to the local community were his decades as a coach and mentor to countless local youth in the community. He began his coaching career as a baseball coach at the then Worcester Country School decades ago and continued coaching right up until the time of his passing.
“Few people know that Steve coached for us way back in the 1970s,” said recently retired Worcester Prep Athletic Director Matt O’Hare this week. “Patty taught art and he was a wonderful baseball coach. When we got lacrosse, his two daughters played and both were goalies. He became a wonderful goalie coach.”
O’Hare said even after his debilitating disease started sapping his faculties, Falck never lost the energy and devotion to coaching and teaching kids.
“When he got sick, he continued to coach through the pain,” he said. “He was a terrific role model for the kids and all of us. Even after he became ill, he was a tremendous asset to our staff and set a wonderful example on how to handle adversity. They were lessons certainly not lost on our kids and all of us.”
Malibu’s Surf Shop owner Lee Gerachis shared a wave or two with Falck over the years and fondly recalled his kindness and spirit and generosity.
“He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” he said. “He was always genuine and always willing to help in any way he could. He will be greatly missed in the surfing community, but also the entire community. He was involved in everything and touched just about everybody around here in some way.”
A celebration of life for Steve Falck is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Athletic and Performing Arts Center at Worcester Prep. In honor of Falck’s aloha spirit, casual attire including Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops is recommended.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his name can be made to the Ocean City Surfrider Foundation at P.O. Box 3342, Ocean City, Md. 21843.