By JOHN GORALSKI
It’s been more than three decades, but Al Rousseau can still remember the late Doug Topshe taking a left out of Recreation Park. The owner of Tops Market never even glanced at his rear view mirror as his grocery store—and his home—vanished from view.
Instead, Topshe was focused on his young passenger, listening to stories about Little League practice or a midget football game as the pair rumbled into the darkness toward Rousseau’s home.
“Mr. Topshe used to always be there for us. Whether we needed a ride home from football or anything else, he’d give it to us,” said Rousseau. “We lived all the way over on Old Turnpike, so we had to cut through the woods. He would always go out of his way to give us a ride, so we didn’t have to walk in the dark. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Rousseau’s own father passed away when he was eight years old—after a Little League game—so that might be one reason why Topshe latched on to the young athlete. Some might argue he took an interest because Rousseau was his son’s friend. Maybe, but it was much more.
It seems that anybody that came in contact with Topshe has a tale about his patience, unselfishness, or caring. Whether it was at a Planning and Zoning Committee (PZC) meeting, at his grocery store, or at a Little League game, Topshe always seemed to be giving back.
“He left us too soon. I think it was one of the biggest losses this town has ever had. He was just an amazing individual,” said John Fontana. As a former high school coach, park board member, and friend, Fontana had plenty of opportunities to test Topshe’s commitment. Each time, Topshe passed the test.
Topshe was one of the co-chairs for the first Apple Harvest Festival. He had a seat on the town’s first Charter Revision Committee. He served 14 years on the PZC, six as chairman. He served 14 years on the Commission on Aging and the Police Commission, but he worked just as hard behind-the-scenes for the town’s young athletes.
Topshe helped form the town’s first midget football league at Memorial Park. He helped raise money, develop the program, and helped build the league’s first field house. He used his family grocery store to support sports banquets and festivities. As a member of the PZC, he helped fight for the lighting project at Southington High School.
If there was a cause for Southington kids, Topshe’s sleeves were rolled up for it.
“If he had to push for something, he never did it in anger. He fought hard with a soft tone,” said Fontana. “But I’ll tell you what. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have lights on the field. People were fighting it, but he fought back. There were major meetings, but it was his push that put it through.”
Fontana recounts stories about sports banquets—Topshe would donate food without taking credit. Rousseau talked about friendly gatherings at the family homestead where Topshe took care of multiple generations without a single complaint.
When youth leagues needed help, he stepped in. When there was a need, he was leading the way. He didn’t just do it for his family. Topshe did it for the town. In fact, his daughter became a cheerleader for the league, but his sons never became gridiron stars.
“My older brother was more into music. I always loved sports, but I was only average,” said Rich. “He never pressured you to excel at anything. He wasn’t the type of father that would push you. He wouldn’t get frustrated if you didn’t well. He was just always behind you and the team.”
According to family stories, Topshe was quite an athlete himself. He had a promising high school career as a 225 pound lineman for Crosby High School’s football team, but he left school early to join the family business. Of course, Topshe never gave it a second thought.
“His friends used to talk about him playing football, and they sort of made him out like a legend,” his son said. “When you’re a little kid hearing your father’s friends talk about him like that, it’s almost like he’s larger than life.”
Topshe never bragged, and he didn’t seek credit. His name doesn’t appear on sports fields or buildings (except for Tops Market), but his legacy is still being felt today.
“He never wanted any publicity. He never wanted any credit. He just wanted to make people happy,” said Rich. “My father had one of the biggest hearts in the world. He would do anything for anybody. He loved kids. He loved youth sports, so any way he could help out he would do it. He was never too busy.”
Fontana agrees. “What he did for Little League and midget football was incredible,” said the former coach. “It didn’t make any difference whether his kids played in the sport or not. If it was for the kids in this town, he was behind it 100 percent.”
That’s why it was no surprise when Topshe was honored with the 2000 Gold Medal of Honor by Southington UNICO. Topshe’s support of local youth leagues, festivals, and civic groups was unequaled. Still, when Topshe was approached by the committee at his home, he seemed almost surprised. He shrugged off the applause.
“Southington townspeople have always been so supportive and giving, which makes it so easy to want to give back and contribute to the wellbeing of our town in any way that I can,” Topshe said to the Observer in 2000.
Topshe died on July 18, 2001, but sports fans have never forgotten his impact. It’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Topshe as a member of the Class of 2016. In fact, many argue that he could have been inducted with any of the previous classes.
“That goes to show you how tough it is to get into this hall of fame,” said Fontana. “There were good people that went in ahead of him, but I look upon him as one of the greatest boosters we’ve had and a great human being. He stands by himself, in my opinion.”
Few can disagree. “When you look at his contributions and the way he was around the kids, he certainly belongs in the hall of fame,” said Rousseau. “It’s not just from a financial standpoint. I just always looked up to Mr. Topshe. He was always there.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Topshe will be honored posthumously in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.
“I think he would be really excited and honored by this,” said his son. “He loved the town, not just the sports. He was always looking to see what he could do for Southington to make it a better place to live and give better opportunities to help the kids.”
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.