by Walter Fox
Gerard F. “Jerry” Casale Jr., 71, of Ambler, the former proprietor of the Hill Cycle Shop in Chestnut Hill who was instrumental in making bicycle racing a major American sport, died March 7 of complications of prostate cancer at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Mr. Casale was one of the founders in 1985 of the first U.S. Professional Cycling Championship race in Philadelphia, better known in its early years as the “CoreStates race” for the bank that first sponsored it. The annual event, now called the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship, has become a Philadelphia tradition and remains the top-ranked, single-day bicycle race in the Western Hemisphere.
Mr. Casale had been operations director of the Philadelphia race since its inception, overseeing all of the physical preparations for the 156-mile event, known worldwide for its 17-percent-grade hill climb called the “Manayunk Wall.” A 72-mile women’s race, the Liberty Classic, was added in 1995.
Lance Armstrong, who won the 1993 Philadelphia race and went on to win the Tour de France seven times, said Mr. Casale was “one of American cycling’s greatest friends and supporters.”
Mr. Casale had worked at Hill Cycle for more than four decades with his father, Gerard F. Casale Sr., who had opened the shop at 8135 Germantown Ave. in 1929. For most of its history, Hill Cycle was more than a business: It was a mecca for the area’s racing community and fostered the careers of many prominent cyclists. It sponsored amateur cycling teams that competed locally and nationally.
Mr. Casale closed Hill Cycle after the death of his father in 1993 to devote himself entirely to racing productions and event management. By then he was a partner and operations manager of what is now Pro Cycling Tour, the organization that produces the Philadelphia race and many other major cycling events.
As founder and president of Special Events Suppliers, Mr. Casale was responsible for staging the road and track cycling events for the 1996 Olympic Games and Para Olympic Games in Atlanta. He also had coordinated staging, crowd control, security and communications for major public events like the presidential inauguration parade, World Series victory parades, Fourth of July celebrations and Philadelphia’s Vintage Grand Prix.
Mr. Casale said he had gotten the idea for the Philadelphia race while serving as chief mechanic for the U.S. professional cycling team during the 1984 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, where the race passed along a wide boulevard before heading up Montjuic Hill.
“It reminded me of the Ben Franklin Parkway,” he said, “and I thought, ‘We’ve got to bring this race back to Philadelphia.’”
David Chauner, a co-founder of the Philadelphia race and a partner with Mr. Casale for 28 years in Pro Cycling Tour, called Mr. Casale “a shining example” to young people.
“He was a born leader and a great mentor and motivator,” Chauner said. “He was unique in his emphasis on loyalty, character and family.”
Robin Morton, who worked with Mr. Casale at Pro Cycling Tour for 17 years and is the first and only woman to manage a professional cycling team, said Mr. Casale was “very supportive to me as a woman in sports.”
“He made me feel like I could do anything,” she said. “He could transcend all kinds of backgrounds to connect with people wherever they were – he could always find some common ground.”
Frank Salemno, who has operated a barbershop for 70 years at 8140 Germantown Ave. – across the street from what once was the Hill Cycle Shop – and gave Mr. Casale his first haircut at 5 years old, described him as “Very, very kind.”
“He was very helpful to people with their bicycles,” Salemno said, “and if they didn’t have much money, he wouldn’t charge them. He was very interested in the community.”
Born and raised in Chestnut Hill, Mr. Casale attended Our Mother of Consolation parish school and graduated from Northeast Catholic High School. After graduation he served in the Army Signal Corps in Korea. A bicycle racer himself during the 1960s and 1970s, he won several Pennsylvania track championships.
Mr. Casale is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Philomena “Cookie” Mangino; sons Gerard F. III, of Horsham, Nicholas, of Tampa, Fla., and Joseph, of Maple Glen; and six grandchildren.
A funeral Mass was celebrated March 12 at St. Alphonsus Church, in Maple Glen. Interment was at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.
Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society (Friends of Jerry Casale Jr.) at http://main.acsevents.org/goto/Jerry.Casale.