Fred Epplett, Former Leamington Flyers’ Owner Passes – by C. Scott Holland
He held a passion, a fire and lifelong enjoyment of the game of hockey but on Sunday, November 29, Fred Epplett, second owner of the Leamington Flyers hockey club, passed away.
The original club began in 1950 and by the late 50s the club struggled to obtain players and fans. In the conclusion of the 1959/60 season, original founder and owner Bill Burgess put the club up for sale. A young entrepreneur whose business was based in Leamington decided to purchase the club.
That fellow was Fred Epplett, one of the area’s most down-to-earth citizens.
His International Trucks Ltd. business grew under his guidance and ownership in much the same way as he helped transform the Leamington Flyers. But most of all, his beloved Flyers hockey team would become a highly competitive group of young men who sought to learn how to play the game, develop their talents and learned valuable lessons in life.
Epplett succeeded in hiring some of the best coaches around and after the Border Cities Hockey loop disbanded in 1963, he entered the Flyers in the OHA Juvenile ranks. For three consecutive seasons the Flyers went to the All-Ontario finals winning the provincial title once. Two future NHLers came out of those teams – Brad Selwood and Randy Manery.
In 1966/67 Epplett entered the club in the Southwestern Jr. B League which was split into an east and west division. The club did not fare well. Even before the season started they lost coach Marc Reaume. Al Plouffe was named to succeed him but bowed out after going 1-9. At that time Epplett decided to split the coaching duties up between himself and Bill Sanford, an original Flyers’ player from the 1950s.
Leamington finished last and dropped out.
Undeterred, Epplett got the club into the newly created Border Cities Jr. C Hockey League. The Flyers with plenty of good, young talent would dominate for two seasons before the league was christened the Great Lakes Jr. C Hockey League. In 1971/72, a year in which they finally won the coveted All-Ontario crown, two more future NHLers (Kris Manery and Pat Ribble) played for the team.
It was the beginning of many superb years for Epplett and the organization.
Just prior to the start of the 1974/75 campaign, Epplett turned the club over to the Town of Leamington thus making it a non-profit group run by members of the community. The club managed to remain solvent until 2010 when it was sold.
Actively involved in other local minor hockey groups (the Seacliff Hunt Club), Fred often spent time at a vacation retreat near Huntsville. Until the last couple of seasons he had retained an interest in watching the Flyers play. His hockey passion is carried on by his three sons and their children. It definitely runs in the family.
The Leamington Flyers can thank Epplett for many things, but most of all, he enabled affordable junior hockey to thrive in Leamington. Without a doubt, his friendship, generosity and leadership changed the lives of several thousand hockey players plus hundreds of lives in and around the communities of Leamington and Wheatley.
Visitation is on Tuesday, December 1 from 3 pm until 7 pm at the Hammond Funeral Home in Wheatley. Service will be held at 2 pm at the Wheatley United Church with a dinner at the Wheatley Legion to follow.
Photo: GM and owner, Fred Epplett, is seen second row, third from right, in this 1961/62 Leamington Flyers team picture. (Photo courtesy of the C. Scott Holland collection)
C. Scott Holland is an accomplished author, a former Western Jr. B Hockey League statistician and is recognized as the West Conference’s and GOJHL’s historian. A lifelong resident of Leamington Scott was a journalist for the now defunct Leamington Post for 26 years and currently writes for the Southpoint Sun. Among the books he has authored are: 75 Years: A History of the Leamington and Erie Shores Golf Course; A Century In The Making – History of Heinz Canada 1909-2009; Leamington Flyers 1992/93-2011/12 Platinum Anniversary Special Program; the Western Jr. B Record Book 2003/04 and 2005/05 editions; as well as updates of both the West Conference and GOJHL Record Books. He was been a member of he Leamington Jr. Flyers hockey club for the last 27 years and served many years as a board member, statistician, press box announcer, and scorekeeper among other duties. He has been named the West Conference Volunteer of Year and a Windsor-Essex Sportsperson of Year award. He resides in Leamington with his wife Susan. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org