Dave Cantwell is passionate about baseball and his sense of community. After graduating from Momence in 1984, he attended Southeastern Illinois College before transferring to Point Park, a Division I school in downtown Pittsburg. He anticipated playing major league baseball, and the St. Louis Cardinals planned to draft him into their organization. But fate—and a blown-out knee—forced a new path. This path led him back to Momence. While many would become excited to share stories of the glory days, Dave is modest about the past. He casually suggests that he was six-foot-six and left-handed and, therefore, ‘had it made.’
Home and Heart
By Barry Engelhardt
Dave glosses over minor details, such as the fact that he was playing in game two of the NAIA World Series when he blew his knee out rounding third. Yet he can vividly describe countless hours playing catch in the backyard and watching his four children play the same sports on the same fields he played on years ago.
When his son, Austin, struggles to remember how many batters he struck out in a pivotal senior-year baseball game, Dave immediately answers. Dave’s pride is evident as Austin shares that he pitched the entire contest, throwing ninety-one pitches over ten innings.
“It’s been rewarding to watch them. We have four kids, three are boys, and all three boys played football, basketball, and baseball,” shares Dave. He added, “It was more rewarding to watch your kids than what I did. I was all-state in a couple of sports, but that’s nothing compared to watching your kids do it,” shared Dave.
Dave confesses that after his knee injury, he was a bit lost. He’d thrown himself into baseball and described going to college with no backup plan. “You learn real quick; I was on a full scholarship. But you are the star of the show when you’re out there producing. When you have that issue, you’re just another number,” says Dave.
He returned home and casually asked a buddy if he could help him find a job. A few days later, Dave answered the phone when that same buddy called at three in the morning. His friend shared that UPS needed someone right away. No stranger to hard work, Dave jumped at the opportunity. He hung up his phone, threw on some clothing, and immediately got to work. After a tough love conversation with his father, he worked two jobs, averaging sixteen hours a day. With his foot already in the door, UPS hired Dave for a coveted driver position. He recently retired after thirty-two years with UPS in service to his community.
“I grew up, lived, and delivered here for thirty years. Everyone always says I gotta get out of this town and do something different. Everyone always thinks the grass is greener on the other side, but I’ll tell you, there’s a lot to be said about delivering around people you’ve known your whole life,” shares Dave.
“If anything ever goes wrong, I could stop at any door and say, hey, can I borrow your car for five minutes, and they’d throw me their keys, no questions asked.”
With such a deep faith in the community and a reputation Dave has earned through countless community interactions, it’s not a surprise that Austin has also displayed perseverance. He contracted meningitis when he was two-and-a-half weeks old. Dave shares that it’s a miracle that Austin lived through the experience.
Austin has overcome temporary blindness and deafness, as well as brain damage and memory loss issues. Quickly proving himself on the little league field as one of the community’s top ball players, he played three sports, graduated high school, and works full-time at the school.
Immediately after graduating high school in 2014, Austin started preparing lunch for the students of Momence. After a few months, he started filling in as a part-time custodian. He spent the mornings preparing and serving lunch, only to transition to custodial duties in the afternoon. Through his dedication and work ethic, he was soon transferred to the Junior High, where he now works as a full-time custodian.
Austin does what’s asked, and he does it well. From greeting the kids in the halls to proactively monitoring the crosswalks, he dedicates countless hours to the youth of Momence. Each night, when the students leave, Austin gets to work, ensuring the classrooms and gymnasium are clean and ready for the next day. Just as Austin supports the students, the students and facilities support Austin.
From interacting with Dave and Austin, many similarities stand out. Both are optimistic and show pride in their continued dedication to working hard and giving back. Both love sports. And both are fiercely loyal. We can easily picture Austin retiring after thirty-two or so years of service not only to the Momence school system but the entire community as a result of his service.