The man whose name graces the gymnasium at Montana State University Billings was remembered Saturday as someone who made a lasting impact on those around him.
Harold S. “Shorty” Alterowitz died June 21 in Cody, Wyo., at the age of 95. A celebration of his life took place Saturday afternoon inside the gym that was named for him in 1988.
Many family members, including his widow, Gloria, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, came to the memorial service. They sat in several rows of chairs on the gym floor.
At the gathering that drew more than 100 people, a table in the lobby held many plaques and trophies bearing the honors Alterowitz had been awarded in his life. Inside the gym, three easels held many family photos and a table bore a cowboy hat and bolo tie, as well as photos of Alterowitz and soft-covered books of stories and poems he had written over the years.
Alterowitz was described by various speakers as a loving father, a caring coach and mentor, and a man with a sense of humor who shared an equal love of fishing and writing, having penned books of stories and poems.
Alterowitz was a coach, professor, athletic director and head of the college’s education department for 36 years, when the school was known at Eastern Montana College.
The New York native arrived at the school in 1948 and was the men’s basketball coach until 1957. He ranks fourth on the program’s all-time wins list.
Alterowitz also served as athletic director for 15 years and was the head of the physical education department for 25 years. He was inducted into the Montana State Billings/Eastern Montana College Hall of Fame and Distinction in 1995.
Alterowitz, who served in the U.S. Army, was given military honors on Saturday, including an American flag presented to his widow, a lone horn playing taps and a three-volley salute shot outside of the gymnasium.
Son Michael Alterowitz spoke first, telling his audience that he has been inside the gymnasium many times over the years. Back in 1961, he said, the building that houses the gym was still under construction and he walked through it with his father.
“He said ‘this is going to be the gymnasium, this is going to be the swimming area’ and he was beaming,” Alterowitz said.
When the building was dedicated to his father in 1988, Alterowitz called it quite a moment.
“It was very appropriate that it was dedicated to my dad,” he said. “I’d like to consider this the house that Shorty built.”
Alterowitz talked about the many times he went fishing with his dad, in Eastern Montana, in Western Montana, and in Wyoming, where his father eventually lived. Alterowitz remembered one time when the pair went fly fishing and, after great perseverance, he caught a fish.
“(My dad) said ‘you know what, that was a thing of beauty,’ ” Alterowitz said. “That made me feel good.”
Daughter Laurie Nielsen said among the many things she could reminisce about, “I think the thing I carry with me every day about my father was his love of words, his love of reading.”
Her father loved poetry and wrote poetry, sometimes singing poems, other times reciting them. The family also had endless conversations around the dinner table about words, she said.
“It allowed us an opportunity to talk about many things, about books, about words,” she said.
Fred Golub, who knew Alterowitz for 52 years, was recruited as a basketball player in 1960. Alterowitz had a great ability to get the eastern recruits, like Golub, and the Montana natives to play together and have success on the court at what was then Eastern Montana College.
Golub called that time a golden era for sports on campus, with multiple teams winning championships. Much of that success he attributed to Alterowitz.
“Dr. A excelled in the various roles he played,” Golub said. “He was a talented coach, chairman of physical education and a compassionate friend to many.”
He also won many awards, Golub said.
“Behind all the awards was a devoted husband and a loving father who never forgot the importance of a strong family,” he said. “He was bright, kind, warm, a great friend and a mentor to many.”
Alterowitz had a great sense of humor, ending each phone conversation with a joke, and passion that infused everything he did. He also imparted to his athletes important life lessons.
"He said always be true to yourself and be accountable for your actions, for only then can real happiness and success follow," Golub said.