GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Dave Rue, a beloved and well-known local hockey referee, died Saturday morning following a battle with lung cancer, family confirmed to FOX 17.
Rue, 54, had been a mentor for young hockey players and a high school referee for 10 years. But his lung cancer diagnosis in July 2016 forced him to stop working to focus on treatment.
"Dave is awesome, he's larger than life," said Peter Piatek, a friend of Rue. "Everybody that I've talked to said he's the best referee that they've ever had the privilege to have to do their games. One guy from Kalamazoo had said that he was the most fair and loved it when Dave stepped on the ice."
The loving father, referee and mentor lost his seven-month battle with lung cancer in hospice surrounded by family at home.
"Hospice came in a week ago Wednesday and they took him down to Trillium Woods and he stayed there until Monday," said Piatek. "One of the last things he said was he would like to go home, so we said we would make it happen."
"He called me and was just devastated with the news. He said to me, 'You're my best friend and so that being said you need to be the captain of my starting lineup so I want you to let the other guys know'."
In December, hundreds turned out for a charity hockey game in Byron Center to raise awareness and money for Rue’s cancer fight. It was one of many instances when the local hockey community stepped up to support him.
“It is priceless, absolutely priceless,” Rue told FOX 17 in December. “It’s overwhelming, I can’t believe all of the people that have taken the time and went out of their way."
Shortly before his death, the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation renamed its scholarship program the 'Dave Rue Referee Scholarship Program.'
Each year the foundation selects and pays for up to 10 high school players to attend a referee class.
"Dave has been an incredible example of strength, humor and dignity, not only on the ice but through his battle with cancer," the post announcing the name change on the foundation's Facebook page said.
"Dave always took time to make sure the players understood what they did wrong, he talked with kids who were off-sides until they were on-sides, he would stop and make funny faces at the spectators and even did the YMCA while on the ice. We appreciate Dave for all he has done and what he will continue to do in the future, not only for the Foundation, but for our hockey community as a whole."
A celebration of life for Dave Rue will be held Wednesday, Feb. 15 at Patterson Ice Arena at 10 a.m.