By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — It was a love of fast cars that led to what has become a lifelong friendship for Bob LeBlanc and Rick Gagne. Over 40 years later that friendship is still going strong, and the two men are not only rabid Boston College football fans, but big supporters of the Robert J. LeBlanc Scholarship Fund in memory of Bob’s father.
Each year since 1998 it is given to a North Shore scholar-athlete, who is headed to BC to play football and remains with that person throughout his career.
“The last time I saw my father was at the BC-Michigan game in 1995,” said Bob LeBlanc, a 1967 Beverly High and ‘71 BC graduate, who now makes his home in North Carolina. “We were with my best buddy Rick, and my Dad was very quiet that day. Shortly after I had to go overseas on business, and he passed away while I was en route home.
“We established the scholarship fund as a gift from my wife and I to help deserving student-athletes. Brian St. Pierre (St. John’s Prep and BC QB, who went on to have a 10 year pro career) was the first. If at all possible, we try to provide scholarship assistance to kids from the North Shore which makes it unique. We have been fortunate to have great young men every year, and I was thrilled when Brian had the opportunity to start a game for the Carolina Panthers a few years ago.”
After St. Pierre’s four years ended, Jim Unis of Gloucester was the next selected. When his football days ended due to injury, he continued to receive the scholarship. Unis was followed by another Gloucester boy, Jon Loyte from St. John’s Prep, who transferred to BC after starting his career at Vanderbilt. From 2008-11 James McClusky of Billerica was chosen, followed by Lynn’s Harris Williams.
“Bob set up the scholarship fund to honor his Dad, and we both put in money,” said Gagne, a 1968 Salem High grad. “Pretty soon it will be fully endowed and go on forever. We were never football players; both of us played recreational basketball. Bob is a great golfer, something I never got into. We used to hang around the old McDonald’s and the House of Speed in Salem when we were into building old cars for drag racing.
“I went into the service, and when I came back I started going to the BC football games with Bob. Nine years ago he retired, and we began attending the games both home and away. It’s a lot of fun, and we have a great relationship with Boston College.”
The two friends rented garages together to work on and store their cars. LeBlanc had a 1964 Chevy, and Gagne owned a ‘57 Chevy. They have gone from racing at New England Dragway in New Hampshire to hosting elaborate tailgating parties with the help of their wives.
The Eagle Tailgaters
BC fans look for the “Eagle Tailgaters” at home and away games. The foursome takes their tailgating feasts seriously, not relying on the old standby hot dogs or hamburgers. They have business cards with their areas of expertise listed. LeBlanc is the executive vice president in charge of planning and logistics while his wife Peggy heads up supplies and photography. Gagne is executive VP of food and beverages and wife Priscilla (Cilla) is VP of procurement and setups. They not only welcome Eagles fans, but often attract a large number of parents and friends from the other team.
“We do it up right, and mix up the food depending on what part of the country we’re in,” said Gagne. “I think I’ve only cooked hamburgers once, and maybe hotdogs for the kids. We always have a theme that varies to include food popular in a particular place. If the game is in Miami we’ll do Cuban sandwiches. At Clemson it’s pulled pork, and for special occasions like the Notre Dame game we might sauté lobster tails. We now keep the same things needed for tailgating in North Carolina as we have up here. We’ve got the same stove, grill, and flagpole. On November 2 for the Wake Forest game we’ll fly into Raleigh where Bob will pick us up with all the gear.
“We also have a suite at BC and do all the food and beverages up there, too. As the years go by we’ve been refining our operation, and I think we have it down pat now. People love to come to our tailgates. There’s been a big change since BC joined the ACC, and for one thing the venues are much nicer. We’ve met a lot of wonderful people by doing this, both Boston College families and those from other teams. We know where to go at every location to find things we need, and use the GPS to locate big Wal-Marts that seem to be everywhere down south.”
Although this is a lean year for BC football, it doesn’t bother these four diehard fans, who don’t plan on missing any games even though there will be no Bowl date. They also support the hockey program and love going to the Frozen Four proudly wearing the Crimson.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Gagne. “We go to cheer them on. It’s harder for them because BC is not a football factory like some schools. Academics are stressed along with the athletics. Out of all the kids on scholarship at schools across the country only a very few make it to the NFL. When football is over they need the kind of education Boston College provides to be successful in life. I hope they never change their philosophy or lower their standards.”
LeBlanc hopes before long the scholarship will be fully endowed and his father’s memory will be honored forever.
“I grew up on Bridge Street in Beverly, and my mom and dad instilled the work ethic I needed to help me on my way,” said LeBlanc, who is 63-years old and was able to retire early. “I’m fortunate to have a BC degree. Rick didn’t go to Boston College, but he’s a huge supporter and puts money into my father’s scholarship.
“The four of us are road warriors, and everywhere we go our tailgate parties are famous. We have a ton of fun being involved with a fine institution. I hope they never relinquish the standards there where the emphasis is on student-athletes. It is so important we graduate these athletes, and through this scholarship we’ve been able to help some amazing young men.”
BC fans might not have lots to cheer about this fall, but won’t go home hungry thanks to the feasts the Eagles Tailgaters prepare to raise the spirits.