Boat Christening Honors Supporter Lou Oswald

The Villa Maria rowing team came together on Sunday, May 15, 2022, to christen their new Vespoli eight-oared racing shell, the “Lou Oswald, ” in honor of benefactor and supporter Mr. Lou Oswald, grandfather of Mia ’22 and Ella ’24 Durante. Early in the program Mr. Oswald donated a boat, erg machines, and oars as Villa rowing was growing. The original boat he donated was destroyed in Hurricane Ida, and the boat christened on Sunday was its replacement.

After a Mass and a blessing of the boat, Mr. Oswald poured champagne above the name painted on the bow of the boat. Head Coach Liz Miller poured water taken from the racecourse finish line on the Schuylkill River so that, as Miller said, the boat can always be said to cross the finish line first.

“We are excited to be able to name our new 8+ for Lou and hope that everyone that rows it will get a share of that same passion for rowing that he has,” said coach Miller. “Without the countless hours and energy he put in to build our varsity program from the ground up, we would not be where we are today and we would not have seen the successes we have so far.”

Miller says the Lou Oswald is being raced for both Stotesbury and Philadelphia City Championships in May by Villa’s novice crew. They will race as a JV 8+ at Stotesbury and as a Novice 8+ at City Championships, where they are seeded first for the PSRA.

“Lou was the catalyst in taking Villa’s rowing program to the level that we celebrate today,” said Principal Sr. Regina Ryan, IHM. “His tenacity, determination and knowledge of the sport coupled with his connections and knowledge of the rowing world quickly changed the trajectory with which we approached the sport. Because of his generosity and persistence we go to Stotesbury with our own boats, equipment, and a solid team. Watching the rapid growth of Villa’s rowing team has been a labor of love in no small part because of Lou Oswald.”

The boat christening was a surprise to Mr. Oswald, who thought he was attending an end-of-season picnic. Instead, he arrived to find that his family and many longtime friends from his rowing days were in attendance to thank and honor him. “I had no idea what had actually been planned,” Mr. Oswald said. “I don’t typically tear up in public but this event held for the purpose of thanking me for allowing me to help advance Villa Rowing touched me very deeply.”

Lifelong Connections

Mr. Oswald’s love for rowing began soon after he enrolled at La Salle College in 1963. The night before tryouts a friend suggested that Oswald should go out for crew, even though he had never rowed before. “By the time I got back to the dock after spending a couple of hours on the water, I knew I was hooked. I never looked back,” he said.

“You either love rowing or you want no parts of it,” he says. “If you are in the group that gets hooked it becomes a part of you. Those lessons get transferred to other parts of your life. That’s when you get a huge payback.”

Mr. Oswald rowed for four years at La Salle — one year in the freshman boat and three years in the varsity eight. Upon graduation, he coached the freshman boat during the fall season before leaving to serve for 4 1/2 years in the United States Air Force, including 18 months in Viet Nam as an EOD Team Chief.

In attendance at the event were several fellow rowers and good friends from his time at La Salle, many of whom have made substantial contributions over many years to the Philadelphia rowing community as coaches, rowing officials, and Boat House Row officials.

Also in attendance was George Hines, Mr. Oswald’s first college coach and a revered, iconic member of the Philadelphia rowing world. His wife Lois Trench Hines, a well-known former rower and also an iconic member of the world of rowing in Philadelphia, founded the Hines Rowing Center that now represents home base for Villa Maria’s Rowing Team and houses countless programs involving hundreds of rowers.

Mr. Oswald attributes these long friendships to the nature of the sport. “Intuitively you understand that you have an obligation to everyone else in the boat,” he said. “All the training, the effort, the sacrifices, result in bonds that last forever. You’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for the boat. That bond doesn’t go away.”

A Bright Future for Villa Maria Rowing

Villa Maria is grateful that Mr. Oswald is sharing his passion for the sport with a new generation. “The fact that my granddaughters were very interested got me focused on it at Villa,” he said. He saw a need for good training equipment, good boats, and good coaching. Remembering how he rowed in wooden boats, he said, “The art of rowing is still the same but the equipment is so different.”

Mr. Oswald credited principal Sr. Regina Ryan, board members Janet Coady ’75 and Ed McAssey, and Athletic Director Stephanie Taylor with key support for expanding and improving the program, saying, “They deserve a lot of the credit.”

Mr. Oswald also noted the growth of women’s rowing since the passing of Title IX. “It’s impossible to overstate the extent to which women’s rowing has grown. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

Although Villa Maria’s program is still new compared to many other schools in the area, Mr. Oswald believes, “All the key components are in place now. Villa’s rowing program is still relatively new but the rowing community knows Villa is now on the scene and their program is a serious one. The future of Villa Rowing is very bright.

“What we need to do now is to keep nurturing it,” Lou Oswald says, “and keep it real for the girls who choose to make the same journey the rest of us who have gone before them have made, who still feel so passionate about this glorious sport.”