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Local News

Family, Friends Go to Bat for Andrew Darke at Baseball Field Memorial Service

Tributes pour in for popular Goleta Valley South Little League coach who died of enlarged heart at age 51

A large crowd gathered on one of the baseball fields at the Goleta Valley South Little League complex to celebrate the life of youth baseball coach Andrew Darke, who died Sept. 26 at age 51. Click to view larger
A large crowd gathered on one of the baseball fields at the Goleta Valley South Little League complex to celebrate the life of youth baseball coach Andrew Darke, who died Sept. 26 at age 51. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Kind. Smart. Hero. Inspiration. Role model. Natural leader. Calm. Faithful. Courageous.

Those were the words family members and friends used to describe 51-year-old Andrew Darke, who died Sept. 26 as the result of an undetected enlarged heart.

“Let’s look at the characteristics he had and embody them in our lives,” said Paula Hoiland, Darke’s sister.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Goleta Valley South Little League complex to pay tribute and celebrate Darke’s life Saturday afternoon.

The memorial service was held on the field where Darke spent countless hours coaching his sons’ baseball teams for more than 10 years.

The crowd arrived wearing baseball caps and carrying blankets and lawn chairs. Once the first speaker stepped to the plate, a hush fell over the field.

Tears were wiped with tissues.

Community members embraced in hugs.

Several friends delivered touching tributes about Darke.

“His zest and joy for life was intoxicating,” said Tim Hoover, a close friend and fellow coach. “He was a good listener — not a common trait found in many men. He had a bounce in his step, most likely from some classic rock running through his head.”

Friends remembered Darke’s memorable double dimple grin, infectious smile and signature laugh.

They recalled road trips with him, Christmas gatherings, baseball and ping-pong games, college memories and his military service.

“He had a big heart, big enough to love us all,” said Mike Elster, a friend. “The biggest heart you’ve ever known.

Pictures were clipped to the baseball field fence covering memories of Andrew Darke’s life, including a family photograph with wife Debbie; their children, Bella, Drew and Gino; and dog Jeter. Click to view larger
Pictures were clipped to the baseball field fence covering memories of Andrew Darke’s life, including a family photograph with wife Debbie; their children, Bella, Drew and Gino; and dog Jeter. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“He loved his family, his town, teammates, co-workers, wife and kids. We shared precious times with this true gentleman.”

Darke’s family was his priority.

“Our kids are blessed to have a father who was deeply invested in them,” said his wife, Debbie. “In his eyes, the sun rose and set on his kids and me. I will miss dancing with him, something we loved together.”

The couple would have been married 20 years in November.

Debbie said ​her husband also loved his clients at Mercer Advisors and Patterson Dental, where he worked as a dental consultant for almost 14 years.

The ceremony included a reading from the Santa Barbara Sharks, Darke’s club baseball team.

“You always believed in us, even if we didn’t believe in ourselves,” one player said. “You taught us about commitment and how to play the game. Every time we stepped up to bat, you always cheered our name.”

A memorial bench in Darke’s name will be placed near the batting cages at the Goleta Valley South Little League complex at 4540 Hollister Ave.

The families of Darke’s players dedicated the spot as a remembrance of his life.

Upon graduation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he studied industrial engineering and received an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, Darke served in the Navy, retiring as a commander a few years ago.

Darke received the Navy Commendation Medal for heroism during the Persian Gulf War.

Honor guard members led a combined fire service and presented a salute to the ceremonial folding of the American flag.

When the service ended, the field fell silent and mourners were handed colorful flowers in Darke’s honor.

Darke is survived by his wife, Debbie; their daughter Isabella, and sons Drew and Gino; and his dog, Jeter.

He is also survived by his father, Jim Darke; sisters Linda Lawler (Jim) and Paula Hoiland (Ken); brother John; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Darke was preceded in death by his mother, Barbara, and his grandmother, Fern.

The family has asked that donations be made to the Goleta Valley South Little League, which will use the funds for a project in Darke’s memory. Click here to make an online donation.

For those interested in contributing to the Darke family in Andrew's honor, an account has been set up to be used towards scholarships for the Darke children.  

Check payable to Charles Schwab & Co. ("Darke Family Memorial Fund") and mailed to Mercer Advisors Inc. 1801 East Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara, CA 93108.

Other options include making a donation to the Darke Family's favorite charity, The Dream Foundation.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Friends shared stories and rememberances of Andrew Darke, who coached his sons at the Goleta Valley South Little League. Click to view larger
Friends shared stories and rememberances of Andrew Darke, who coached his sons at the Goleta Valley South Little League. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

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