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Sponsor’s death shocks Little League community

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Win or lose, the boys in the St. Albans youth baseball league knew they could count on "Joe's Mart Joe" for a slushie or two.

Many in the community were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of local convenience store owner and baseball benefactor Joe Tummons last week.

Tummons, who had fallen on financial hard times, shot himself at his home as authorities were serving eviction papers.

Little League parents knew him as "Joe's Mart Joe," said Jim Lewis, league president.

Tummons sponsored teams and bought a full-page ad in the season program. Lewis said Tummons had a minor league team in the spring season and a Little League team in the fall.

Tara Kerwood's 13-year-old son, Cameron Hammack, played on Joe's Mart teams for several years.  

 "He fell on hard times," Kerwood said of Tummons.

"He was a very private man. If we would have known, maybe we could have gotten together and done something for him."

Process servers with the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office went to Tummons' Lincoln Avenue home Thursday morning to serve eviction papers.

St. Albans Police Capt. James Agee said Tummons knew officials were moving forward with foreclosure proceedings on his property.

The process servers asked Tummons, 63, to get his belongings and then waited in front of his home. They checked on him about half an hour later, and he asked them to give him a moment. That's when they say he took his own life.  

Kerwood said the baseball community was shocked.

"He really was a wonderful man," Kerwood said. "He loved these children and he loved baseball."  

She was one of many to leave flowers in front of the now-shuttered Joe's Mart along Kanawha Terrace. Her son brought his own bunch of flowers and tucked the yellow buds in the door handles.

Lewis had known Tummons for about 10 years. He said Tummons lived in the community for decades but they met when he began hanging around the ball field, located about a block from the Kanawha Terrace store.

"He'd just opened the Joe's Mart so we asked him if he'd sponsor a team," Lewis said. "Not only did he sponsor a team, but he came to all of the games."

Lewis said some sponsors never come to a game but Tummons made it a point to be there. It wasn't unusual to see him in the stands during games in St. Albans or even at away games, be it South Charleston or Bridgeport, where the St. Albans all-star teams played a few years back.

"He just heard our kids were playing up there and popped up at the games," Lewis said.

Tummons was more than a sponsor and a faithful spectator. He sometimes subbed as an umpire if one was needed and handled announcing duties during all-star games.

Lewis said Tummons' low voice resonated well and was great for announcing. He called Tummons the league's voice, something people would miss in the coming season.

"It's like losing a family member," Lewis said. "I don't care about losing the sponsorship; I care about not having Joe around anymore.

"It didn't matter what it was, he would take care of it. He was the epitome of the Little League volunteer."

Lewis said Tummons gave time and money and was paid with friendship with the players and fellowship with the community. Tummons knew every child on the roster, Lewis said. After 10 years, that amounted to hundreds of players, he said.

Tummons often told players to run up to his store after games to get slushies. If the player didn't have money for the frozen treat, he would give them a handwritten note authorizing a free one, win or lose.

Lewis said he heard about Tummons' death from an umpire. He last saw him just a few days before he died. Lewis said it was difficult to talk about what happened.  

"We just didn't know," Lewis said. "I don't care what it would have took, it would have gotten done. People would have helped him.

"Now we're just waiting to find out what we can do."

Agee said Tummons, who was originally from Pennsylvania, did not have any family in the area. A sister has been contacted in Texas, and funeral arrangements are pending.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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