The role Tom Steigerwald played at Saratoga Casino Hotel was a simple one. He held a job at the track where interaction and competence are keys but name recognition is not always prominent. Tom Steigerwald was a mutuel clerk for a couple of decades at the Raceway in addition to a job he worked at Skidmore College. For many track patrons, a mutuel clerk is just somebody to whom you recite some numbers, hand some money to and go on your way. For others, interaction with a teller is common and these are the kind of customers Tom loved. A big fan of horses and horseracing, Tom could be seen downstairs in the “old grandstand” punching tickets nightly during live racing at the Spa. He was one of the many holdovers who made the switch upstairs when the casino was built and the racing grandstand was relocated. While some of his customers were simply that, a customer who wanted to bet and get out of there, Tom made sure to chat with the bettors on occasions when the line wasn’t very long. He made you feel welcomed not only at his window but at the track in general.
Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, my involvement at the track was simply as one of these customers. I was one of the customers, though, that felt comfortable not only making a wager at Tom’s window but also chatting with him about any number of topics. He would man the window directly to the right of his co-worker and friend Bert Dutcher. Between the two of them, 100% of my bets were placed. They possessed the perfect combination that you could want in a teller. They were friendly, fast and most importantly got it right. While Bert left the track a few years back (she has since returned to her post), Tom remained and continued to do what he enjoyed. Over the course of his many years at the window, he got to know not only so many of the fans but also a large amount of the track’s horsemen and women. Tom seemed to know more about the comings and goings at the track than anyone else did. While he commonly mispronounced the names of a horse, a driver or a trainer, you never wanted to correct him. It was part of his charm.
Tom Steigerwald passed away suddenly in February at the age of 72 and when the 75th racing season at Saratoga got underway in March, his absence was like a big hole in the upper mezzanine. Tom was a man who was always talking about his family, their upcoming trips or a visit to a casino that he had planned. He gushed about seeing his grandchildren and spending time with his wife and children on a cruise ship somewhere (he loved his cruises.) For me personally, my interactions at a betting window with Tom ended more than a decade ago but my conversations thankfully didn’t. I would see Tom on the way to my announcer’s booth almost nightly when I got to the track. He would either be sitting upstairs before his shift started chatting with his twin brother John, who is also a mutuel teller at the track, or I would come across him at times in the employee lounge/cafeteria.
Every few weeks I would see Tom in the cafeteria and he would always say the same thing to me. “I told ya I’d be seeing an awful lot of you in here now,” as he joked several years back that after getting married I would be relegated to fending for myself for dinner more often. He always said it (99%) jokingly and did it with the Tom charm that I’d witnessed for close to twenty years. Oh and as he made his regular quip to me, he did so while piling up cups of coffee for the numerous employees for whom he would prepare them nightly. Tom, who embraced his bald-headedness, would always ask me where all my hair was going (he was right) and would laugh as he offered suggestions for what was causing the process to be accelerating as much as it was. He knew what to say and how to say it such that you could never think of being offended or taken aback but instead had to just smile as his attempt was to get you to do just that.
While he has been sorely missed and memories and stories about him have gone on throughout the season, on Friday night, Tom Steigerwald was officially memorialized at the track with a race in his honor. The evening’s fifth race was the “Tom Steigerwald Memorial Race” and several of Tom’s family members were on hand to make the presentation in the winner’s circle. Joining Tom’s wife Kathy, as well as his children and grandchildren, was several of his longtime fellow mutuel tellers at the track. The scene was very emotional as the memory of Tom was honored with this special presentation. I know how difficult it has been for his former co-workers to not have Tom manning his post this year and giving his signature “keyboard swipe”. It was his way to clear his computer with one flick of the wrist while preparing for his next customer. Fortunately, I vividly remember what would wind up being my final conversation with the man with whom I had probably shared thousands with over the course of the years. It was during the final few weeks of the 2015 racing season as we chatted about what our winter plans were. I don’t remember all of the specifics of what he told me but I know that he referenced preparing for a trip, I believe another of his beloved cruises. But what I can clearly recall was how his face lit up when he told me that he would be spending time in the coming months with his grandchildren and how much he cherished sharing as much time as he could with Mikayla, Kaitlyn, Soleil and Nicholas. Ever the family man, ever the horseracing lover and ever the true gentleman, Tom Steigerwald is and will continue to be sorely missed at the Raceway. RIP Tom and thank you for always making us smile.
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