David Van Osten
Dave Van Osten, 77, of Sea Isle City, was going to play in Villanova's alumni game the Sunday before Christmas. Instead, he died later that day of complications from ALS. Van Osten family photo

Dave Van Osten won a basketball scholarship to Villanova University, and played there for three years before he graduated in 1957.

Fifty-three years later, the longtime Sea Isle City resident was hoping to keep up his annual tradition by going to Villanova's alumni game, this time the Sunday before Christmas. Instead, he died later that day of complications from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Van Osten, 77, was still playing in those games until four or five years ago, his family says. And his oldest son, Dave Van Osten Jr., remembers "Pop" - Dave Sr.'s nickname to his 15 grandchildren - taking older grandsons to Sea Isle's courts, then getting into pickup games, with teenagers, until he was in his 70s.

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His ALS was not diagnosed until last March, although people close to him suspect he had figured it out before then. He had been losing strength to the point that he needed crutches to get around, and he was good with computers - his wife, Theresa, says he was taking post-college computer courses before most Americans had ever heard of computers - and likely had researched his symptoms.

But the disease couldn't stop him from getting to work, even at age 77. He was a systems analyst at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, and he went to work two days before he died - and just a day after he had to be rushed to the hospital with breathing problems.

The loss of strength and control from ALS was especially hard on an old-fashioned athlete.

"He was always in very good shape," his wife says. "He ran, rode a bike, he used to swim - I don't think he'd put on any weight since I met him, when he was a junior at Villanova."

The two were married in 1958 and had six children, two boys and then four girls, by 1969. They lived in Philadelphia until they bought a place in Sea Isle in 1979. By then, Dave had a federal job and commuted to Philadelphia from Sea Isle for two years before he got a transfer to EHT.

Last year, after the ALS diagnosis, his children talked him out of driving - by promising to get him to work and back every day. The oldest daughter, Marybeth, moved back to Sea Isle to help, and the other siblings, including ones who live around Philadelphia, pitched in on dad-driving detail, too.

Once they got him to his desk, his colleague, Cindy Reichelt, took over and did whatever she could - so much that Theresa Holt, 41, the youngest Van Osten daughter, calls her "my fourth sister."

Reichelt, 51, says she was glad to help a guy "I looked up to as a father figure. I could do it for him because I knew he'd do it for me - or anybody. ... He had so much courage - he displayed it every single day. So I admired him and felt blessed to be able to help him in some way."

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