Louis Soriano, one of the most celebrated athletes in Bremerton history and an influential community member active in athletics, business and civic activism, died Thursday night. He was 88 years old.
Soriano's long-time friend, Bob Fredericks, said Soriano was a bedrock of Bremerton for decades.
"The city meant everything to him, it was his whole life," said Fredericks, who was authorized to speak on behalf of the family by Soriano's wife of 66 years, Joan. "The whole family established the core, good or bad, of Bremerton and set the direction Bremerton was going to take."
Most of Soriano's career was spent running an insurance agency on Park Avenue and managing property. His involvement with city life touched many organizations, however.
Soriano was part of creating many lasting institutions, including the bleachers at Bremerton High's Memorial Stadium, the Bremerton Athletic Roundtable, Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club and the Olympic College booster club.
"He was the behind-the-scenes mayor," said Chuck Stark, who grew up in Bremerton and has worked at the Sun for decades as a sports reporter, editor and columnist. "In his own way he could push and get things done. He had connections and knew how to use them."
Soriano's wife, Joan, was an engaged community member in her own right, as a longtime member and past president of the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce, East Bremerton Rotary Club and Harrison Medical Center Board of Directors. They raised two children, Marc and Gayl, and have four grandchildren.
Soriano was well-known for his opinions, though he never ran for office. He and a small group of men, including former state legislators and city councilmen, met at a Pacific Avenue coffee shop on a regular basis for years, where they'd host politicians for feedback sessions or harp on newspaper reporters for the Sun's coverage.
Former Bremerton mayor and Kitsap County Commissioner Patty Lent was a frequent guest of Soriano's coffee klatch. She said his biggest complaint aimed her way was a parking ticket he received near the ferry terminal while he was dropping off an elderly friend. His dogged pursuit of the issue persuaded the city to add three parking spots for people with physical disabilities.
"He was really an advocate for doing things right for the city," said Lent. "He didn't want people to just talk about doing things."
Soriano moved to Henderson, Nevada, five years ago, but remained a regular visitor to Bremerton, and he and Joan kept their home in Manette until last year. His cause of death was not known by Fredericks, but Soriano had struggled with several health issues over the years.
Fredericks said Soriano was imbued with a toughness that he learned growing up in Bremerton.
"When you think of downtown Bremerton, what kind of people do you think of? Right away you think of Louis Soriano," Fredericks said. "He was Bremerton-first... His whole family was that way."
Soriano grew up across the street from Union High School, and he and Fredericks were friends since childhood. The two bonded over sports, playing basketball and tennis in school and were the student body leaders at Bremerton High School when the class of 1947 helped sponsor construction of stands at Memorial Stadium.
Both men graduated from the University of Washington, where Soriano went to play basketball after a storied career at Bremerton High. Soriano was an all-conference guard for the Huskies, where he started refereeing basketball games, a pursuit that would lead him up and down the West Coast and eventually to the NBA, as an adviser to officials.
According to Fredericks, Soriano's basketball success came in part from his mother. When she wouldn't allow her son to play football, Soriano spent all his time practicing basketball.
"He became outstanding. He could pass, dribble, shoot, it's too bad he wasn't 6-4," Fredericks said.
Fredericks and Soriano remained close friends up until Soriano's death, staying in touch regularly over the phone. In recent years Soriano was known to call the Kitsap Sun newsroom to comment on coverage he read from his adopted home in Nevada, never losing interest in the community he loved.
"He was involved in so many things," said Carol Atkinson, a close friend of the family for years and the former director of a downtown Bremerton business organization, where she worked with Soriano on many issues. "He never complained, and he was also concerned about you. Everything he did, he did it well ... it was important to him to get things done."