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Somerset Patriots Chairman Emeritus, Philanthropist, Steve Kalafer, 71, Succumbs To Cancer

Steve Kalafer (Photo: Somerset Patriots.)

Submitted by Somerset Patriots.

The Somerset Patriots have announced that the team’s Chairman Emeritus, Steve Kalafer, passed away on April 21 from cancer at the age of 71.

“We are completely heartbroken by Steve’s passing,” said Somerset Patriots President/General Manager Patrick McVerry. “Everyone who ever came into contact with him over the years knows just how special a person he was.”

“He built his dealerships and this team from the ground up with the customers, employees, his family, and the communities served always as his top priorities. He taught us all the value of doing things the right way, of taking the time to build long lasting relationships, and making a difference wherever you can,” McVerry said. “To say that he will be missed is an understatement. Everything we have here is because of his tireless efforts. We were fortunate to have such a wonderful chairman, father-figure, and friend. We know his sons Jonathan and Josh will help continue his legacy and our staff will strive to make him proud every day because we know he will always be with us, guiding our path and showing us the ways to succeed.”

Kalafer was an unmatched entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist.  In 1973, he entered the automotive industry and built one of the most respected and successful franchises in the United States with Flemington Car and Truck Country, Clinton Honda, and Jaguar Land Rover Princeton.

His dream of bringing professional baseball to Somerset County came to life when the Somerset Patriots played their first home game in June of 1999. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and helped build the league into the premier independent league in the country and ultimately a Partner League of Major League Baseball.

Kalafer’s love of baseball and the New York Yankees began with trips to Yankee Stadium with his father Milton, a tradition he continued throughout his life with his sons Jonathan and Josh and his grandchildren.

His love for the game and the Yankees was what made the announcement that his beloved Patriots were to be the iconic franchise’s Double-A affiliate that much more special.

“There is no one like Steve Kalafer,” said Somerset Patriots Manager Emeritus Sparky Lyle. “From the first day I met him, I loved him. He treated everyone like family and made you feel like the most important person in the world.”

“We became friends when he hired me to manage the Patriots and I learned so much from him about the right way to do things in life and how to conduct yourself in business,” Lyle said. “Every time I set foot in the ballpark, I will think of him with an unbelievable amount of love, respect, and appreciation. He was the Somerset Patriots, and it will be up to all of us to carry his vision long into the future.”

“I was shocked and saddened to hear the news that Steve Kalafer passed away earlier today,” said Somerset County Board of County Commissioners Director Shanel Robinson. “Steve has been a vital member of the Somerset County community for decades as a businessman, an advocate for health care and the arts, and primarily as an extremely generous benefactor and friend. I’ve been honored to know and work with Steve for many years, especially during my three years as a Somerset County Commissioner.”

“Over the incredibly difficult past 13 months, Steve has been vital to so many people by ensuring that our food banks were filled during the holidays, pushing for advanced medical services at RWJ Somerset, and even entertaining us with baseball during the height of the COVID pandemic after the Patriots’ season was cancelled,” Robinson said. “Our hearts go out to his wife Suzanne, and their two sons and five grandchildren as they grieve this great loss.”

Kalafer was also a gifted producer of documentary films, garnering three Academy Award nominations.

Services will be private. The Somerset Patriots and the Kalafer family will be planning a celebration of Steve’s life at the ballpark at a later date.

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