Gus Constant, 85; led effort for female rowers on Schuylkill

Posted: January 03, 2012

He was president of the Vesper Boat Club in 1977 and 1978, and, after he turned 60, he helped win several international rowing titles for the United States.

But "Gus" Constant might be best remembered as the man who championed women in men's rowing clubs on the Schuylkill, an effort that he himself found daunting.

Constantine Constant, 85, of East Falls, died of Parkinson's disease on Christmas at the hospice of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia.

Brian Colgan, Vesper president in 1990 and 1991, said Vesper was the first men's club on the Schuylkill to admit women.

Mr. Constant told his own story in a 1989 Inquirer report about the history of women in rowing across the nation.

The 1989 story reported that in 1969, Mr. Constant, who at that time was a Vesper board member, "offered to form a women's team" to represent Vesper.

"He'd coach it. He'd raise the money. He'd get the equipment," the piece stated. "All he wanted was the building to store equipment and the reputation the well-regarded Vesper name would bring."

Mr. Constant then described what happened:

"I had four other guys on the board who agreed with me . . . and we got things going. But the rowers, especially the guys on the elite sweep team, they flipped.

"Now, these are bright guys. They had gone to all the best schools. At least 12 of them made the U.S. national team.

"And they'd do things like nail the girls' lockers shut. One guy pulled a rifle on me and pulled the trigger.

"Obviously, since I'm talking here, it wasn't loaded. But I was scared."

Mr. Constant left no doubt in that 1989 story that women are "suited to rowing."

"Ninety percent of rowing strength comes from the legs, and women have strong legs. Rowing is a stamina sport, and I think women have superior stamina to men. It's an ideal sport for women."

In an interview from his California home, Jack Sholl, 86, a former Vesper president, recalled that "Gus was the driving force behind getting women into Vesper" and that he was their coach for years.

On the water as well, he said, "Gus was one fierce competitor."

After he turned 60, Mr. Constant won eight eight-oared-shell world championships from 1987 to 1994, Sholl said.

The eight-man crews from across the nation represented the United States against other national teams 60 and older.

Mr. Constant's most memorable race was in 1988 in Glasgow, Scotland, Sholl said. The U.S. crew, with Sholl in the number-two seat behind Mr. Constant, beat the German national crew by 49/100 of a second.

At home, he was no less prolific.

At 67, he was in the two-man boat that won the masters' double at the Independence Day Regatta on the Schuylkill for the fifth straight year, according to a 1985 newspaper account.

Mr. Constant ran before he rowed, as a high school cross-country racer.

At age 24 in November 1950, while a sculler for the Malta Boat Club, he won the Schuylkill Navy cross-country run for the second straight year, at a distance of five and five-eighths miles. He would continue to run competitively for decades.

Mr. Constant's sister, Mary, said he was inducted into the Army in 1944, before his graduation from Northeast High School. Even then, while serving in the Army of Occupation in Japan, he competed in military cross-country meets.

Mr. Constant earned a bachelor's in business at what is now La Salle University in 1950, his sister said, and became a salesman in the Philadelphia office of International Business Machines Corp., retiring in the 1970s.

He oversaw the women rowers at the Vesper as a volunteer, she said.

His love of rowing lingered long; he stopped rowing only four or five years ago.

"He wanted to row forever," his sister said.

Besides his sister, Mr. Constant is survived by six nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by a former wife, Dorothy, and their son, Michael. He is survived by his former wife Karin.

Services will be private.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or

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