Sunday, August 04, 2019


She was an identical twin but make no mistake about it, Winnie Stearns was an original.

The grandmother of former All-Ivy League linebacker Luke Hussey '11 and the figurative grandmother of a generation of Dartmouth football players, Winnie passed away peacefully Saturday a month shy of her 92nd birthday with family at her side.

Winnie with "her" recruit, Greg Patton. (Photos courtesy of Tris Wykes)
For years Winnie and her late husband John were regulars at Dartmouth football practice. While John would stand stoically watching the action from the grandstand, Winnie would usually be elsewhere – sometimes even a few feet onto the field – chatting up the kickers and punters, quarterbacks, defensive tackles or anyone else whose attention she could get – including the media. She loved nothing more than to grab the wrists of Big Green players and hold on tight while she talked with them. Whether it was the sweltering first days of training camp or those uncomfortable afternoons late in the season, Winnie was there, seemingly always surrounded by two, three of four players. Her hearing wasn't good and you might say she made up for it in an endearing way by making sure everyone heard her.

The unofficial team grandmother knew all of the players, like former Wildcat quarterback Greg Patton, who she would proudly tell you she recruited out of Atlanta. She knew also knew her football and while on the sidelines wasn't afraid to share her opinions about what the New York Jets were doing wrong 275 miles to the south.

When Luke Hussey walked onto the Dartmouth football team and became a Big Green stalwart his grandmother was justifiably proud. But if you were to ask a passerby at practice which player she was there to watch you would get a quizzical look because for as proud as she was of his accomplishments she had one-hundred plus grandsons on the field.

Winnie with Kirby Schoentaler.
Winnie continued to come to most practices for years after Luke graduated, walking stick in one hand, a roster in the other. I remember a Thursday practice before Homecoming just a few years ago when a couple of recent graduates stopped by to visit with their former teammates and coaches. Winnie spotted them shortly after they arrived and soon had one or the other by the wrist.

Watching for a few minutes from a distance I ambled over to free the players, because I knew they wanted to visit with their buddies.

"You've got to let them go, Winnie," I said gently. "They have friends they want to see."

With that Winnie released her grip.

One of the players shared a knowing smile with me but for another 10 minutes he and his friend stayed by Winnie's side. Their old teammates could wait. There would always be time for the team grandmother.

(Editor's note: Since originally posting this story I received the photos I've now added. Be sure to check out the one of her with Ernest Evans that appeared in the Valley News HERE.)