Hank DeVincent recalled as great doctor, better person

Hank DeVincent gave up a promising baseball career to become an orthopedic surgeon. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

When Mike Lake was hired as the coach of La Salle University’s baseball team, he got some advice. He was told to become close with Hank DeVincent.

It was probably the best tip he ever received.

DeVincent has long been a legend at the school. So much in fact that the university named its baseball field after the former star player.

A very successful orthopedic surgeon, he donated a lot of money to the school and baseball program, where he starred. But that’s not what Lake thinks about when he recalls his friend.

“He was most generous with his time, he loved to get to know the players, talk with them, help them and they loved hearing from him,” said Lake, now the baseball coach at Archbishop Ryan High School, but who spent 14 years at La Salle including 10 years as head coach. “He was a great player, he could help anyone, but he was so good about helping guys who wanted to get into medicine. He would give them advice or help them in any way he could. He loved seeing people so well.”

DeVincent passed away April 5 after a battle with coronavirus. It was a great loss for the La Salle community, but even a bigger loss to those closest to him.

He is survived by his wife Frances, his children Henry Jr., John, Teresa, Rich, his eight grandchildren and thousands of others he’s helped through medicine, baseball or in some other way.

The end was rough. Led by their parents, the family has always been extremely close, and due to the pandemic, they were unable to visit him when he was in the hospital.

“That’s something that will always be a huge scar,” his son Rich said. “We’re a close family, we all stayed close, all the kids ended up in the area and we’re very, very close. We couldn’t speak to him, couldn’t visit. It was heart wrenching.

“We had an 86th birthday party for him on March 8. So at least we had that we had family over. A week or two after that, he spiked a fever, had issues breathing, had pneumonia, He ended up having it, he turned the corner, and we were all excited. We didn’t know the protocol. Then 24 or 48 hours later, his status turned 180 degrees downhill. It was elation to sorrow. I never would expect anything like this.”

But he was sick for only a very short time.

The rest of his life, he was Superman.

DeVincent grew up in Olney, where he attended Incarnation and then Olney High School. He was a great athlete, and in high school, he had an offer to play baseball at Duke or Wake Forest. He was ready to go, but he had reservations about leaving his mom. His father passed away when he was 10.

“He was going to go away, and then he talked with people at La Salle,” Rich said. “My dad was all set to go there, either that or Wake Forest. He played in the city championship in 1952. Olney won. And he met Gene McDonald, who ended up being a La Salle baseball coach for 40 years. Gene said, ‘What do you think about La Salle?’ He had a widowed mom. His brother was in the service. She had a candy store and when he met the Christian Brothers at La Salle, he felt he had a family here, a fatherly figure with the Christian Brothers.”

While at La Salle, DeVincent starred in baseball while also playing soccer and track and field.

In baseball, he hit over .400 and signed to play professionally with the Cincinnati Reds. But after a year, they wanted him to play in South America during the offseason. He had other ideas. He hung up his cleats and focused on medical school.

“Can you imagine having those options?” Lake said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. There’s not a lot of people who are going to pick med school, but he did. And it was the right choice, he was a great doctor. He did so much.”

After graduating from Temple University medical school, DeVincent interned at Nazareth Hospital and worked at Temple and Shriners hospitals. He also had an office on Castor Avenue in Rhawnhurst. He worked wonders through medicine, giving many people the ability to do things they never thought they’d be able to do again.

“We got letters from people that we didn’t know saying, ‘Your dad worked on me in the ’60s. I was a patient at Nazareth and your dad changed my life.’ Total hips and knees, he was before his time with a lot of things. The Sixers and Flyers would consult with him. When Jeff Ruland got hurt, Harold Katz wanted my dad to look at him. He was kind of like a pioneer in sports medicine. He was doing it in the ’70s. And my dad did knees, hips, fingers, he did it all.”

But as great as DeVincent was as a doctor and baseball player, the thing he put above all else was his family.

“Just an awesome dad,” Rich said. “Great dad. I had a great childhood. Very loving mom and dad, just a phenomenal dad. Family meant everything to him. Very driven. Family was always No. 1. I felt very comfortable and protected as a kid. It was a such a blow to me as the youngest. I had a special connection with him as the youngest.

“I remember that he would come home for dinner after work and then head to La Salle for a meeting. I thought all dads did what he did. They didn’t. I know that now. He was a special guy.

“I told him every time I saw him that I loved him, and he did the same. We were a close family. He knew how we all felt, and we know how he felt. We couldn’t tell him at the end, but he knew. I know he knew.”