LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Faith, family, Fogarty and football. It’s the four things that Hurricane Ian could not destroy for a retired Florida preschool teacher.
Surrounded by family and friends, Suzanne Fogarty says she lost everything after the disastrous storm, even her husband of 33 years.
"There will be times when I will be devastated and hurt. And I will always mourn," said Suzanne while comforted by her two sons, Timmy and Taylor. "But we will be OK."
The man, the myth, the legend
Whether you played for him or against him, those who were fortunate to know the coach knew he always did things big. Almost anyone in Lafayette, Indiana, the tenth most populated city in the state, had a tale of Big Tim to tell.
"You played for him; you loved him and worshiped the guy. You played against him; you hated him but respected the hell out of him. He was the Nick Saban of Lafayette middle school football," Timmy said.
After Tim graduated from college, he coached for a high school close to his hometown of Lafayette for free because he loved sports. He then taught for a couple of years before going into commercial insurance.
After his sons were born, he returned to education and accepted a position as a physical education teacher at Tecumseh Middle School in Lafayette. Aside from teaching, Tim coached middle school football and basketball and refereed college basketball for more than 30 years.
"He coached half our town," Taylor said. "He was just known as Coach Fogarty throughout town to everybody."
He also accepted all of his students like his own children.
"It was just in his blood. He loved it, and he was so good at it. You see both sides of the game as a coach and a referee. And he was very passionate about both," Suzanne said.
It’s also those friendships that have helped generate nearly $40,000 in funds to support the Fogartys in putting the flood-soaked pieces of their lives back together.
Ironically, Tim’s love of sports allowed for a cameo in the 1986 sports drama "Hoosiers" as a referee.
Cancer’s final timeout
Florida held a special place in Tim’s heart. Every spring break, he and his wife would drive to Sanibel Island, where they would vacation for more than 20 years.
Frustrated with the cold Indiana weather, Tim was ready to retire. The love he and his wife had for the Fort Myers area was why they permanently relocated there in 2014, until a recent move to California to be closer to their boys, Timmy and Taylor.
After six months of adjusting to life in California, Tim got a devastating call from his oncologist in March 2021: Liver cancer.
Yet the Fogartys were not new to the term cancer. Ten years before Tim’s final diagnosis, he battled the disease one-on-one for the first time.
"He was a tough son of a b-tch," Timmy said. "We’re a real tough family. He beat prostate cancer. So, we were like, all right, let’s crush this. We can do this."
Yet as beautiful and sunny as it was in California, the weather was too cool and damp, making it hard for their father to live.
Suzanne, the ultimate team player, sacrificed being close to her sons in California, so that her husband could be happier and comfortable in Florida. The two moved back to Fort Myers in July, where they bought a prefabricated home about 2 miles from the beach.
Timmy and Taylor feel their family operated like a team because their dad was their coach their entire lives.
The storm of all storms
As the storm that would eventually become Hurricane Ian began to pick up steam in the Caribbean, Tim’s health was declining.
He was admitted to the hospital for a simple procedure on Thursday – six days before Ian struck. However, his heart rate was too high to proceed with the surgery. And while medical complications extended into the weekend, it allowed Tim to spend time with his sons, who were already planning to come to town for a wedding the following weekend.
"It took a turn for the worst on Monday. He ended up in ICU, and we knew the storm was coming," Suzanne said.
By Tuesday, county officials issued a mandatory evacuation for their zone. Area hospitals went on lockdown, closing their doors to all guests.
The skies began to turn gray as Ian pummeled the streets with rain. Thinking the storm was still on a path to Tampa, Suzanne packed an overnight bag with some essentials. She traveled along with her sons and dog to her sister’s home in Naples, where they rode out the hurricane.
A neighbor called Suzanne as the eye of Ian washed ashore that Wednesday.
"She’s hysterical," Suzanne recalls. "Her patio doors had blown in, and she was watching her furniture blow out the window. Cars were floating down San Carlos (Boulevard). There were boats piling up."
The storm would ultimately wipe away Fort Myers Beach.
"The beauty of all of this," Suzanne said. "Tim loved Fort Myers Beach. He was not aware of the magnitude of this storm."
Her husband would never know that his beloved beach home no longer stood, or that any of his sport-filled memories would decorate the hallways. Ian took everything.
"But you know what? I’m OK. I’m so lucky that I have my family," Suzanne said. "It breaks my heart to see other people going through what they’re going through. I lost my house, but it doesn’t matter. I will survive. There are people here who literally have no one. And it just breaks my heart to see them."
Limited on cellphone service, Suzanne could get through briefly to the hospital to talk to her husband the following day. He informed her they were now evacuating due to no running water. Two days passed until she heard from doctors at Tampa General Hospital that her husband was in their care.
Timmy vividly remembers the two-hour drive up Interstate 75 from Naples to Tampa to see his dad in the hospital.
"My dad kept calling us, saying, ‘hurry up and get here. Are you almost here?’" he reminisces. "It’s literally like he knew that was his last night. And that was the first time in months that he was our ‘Big Tim’ again."
In a way, the storm reawakened their father’s personality and the ability to crack jokes.
"He was himself again," Timmy said. "It was a very tough but comforting thing for us to be like Dad is Dad again. Now, hopefully he can just go peacefully and see all his referee buddies."
The family would spend their Saturday evening, as they always did growing up, watching college football with their coach.
Clemson just defeated North Carolina State 30-20.
And the family’s hero - the captain of their team – made his final call in life as he passed away hours later.
The Fogartys believe their coach held on to ensure his family was safe after the storm.
Huddling the memories
Ian didn’t destroy Tim’s beloved Jeep, which he left to his son, Taylor.
It also didn’t blow away a gold chain Timmy’s father always wore to compliment his white, red or black Adidas jumpsuits he threw on over his slicked-back and very luscious black hair. A necklace Timmy says he will never take off again.
And Suzanne saved her wedding album and other memories from the past 33 years, which she will cherish.
It’s the celebrations in life – from annual vacations to attending various sporting events – that the Fogartys shared as a team that will keep them moving forward.
For now, Suzanne said she is staying in Florida to figure things out. And while she feels her husband knew how important it was for her to be close to her boys, he also knew that she has a huge support group in Florida.
"He ended his life here; his favorite place on Earth," she said. "And I’m just. I’m glad that he didn’t see the devastation."
Though Coach Tim never saw the final play unfold first-hand, he had already taught his team about resiliency.
"He taught us those lessons," Timmy said. "The last two weeks have been unexplainable. But it would be unbearable if we didn’t have that lifestyle."
And the Fogartys will stay together as a team, always fighting, standing tough, no matter the next storm on the horizon.