Albert “Al” Singleton ran like the wind, cooked up a storm and coached with his heart, all while straight-talking so softly that kids leaned in to catch every word.
The award-winning track star from Kankakee, Ill., didn’t yell. Instead, he ran his Northeast Middle School football team in Minneapolis through drills, talked strategy, corrected sloppy running and made sure his boys were just plain ready.
“Some of the parents during the game would say, ‘Why is he not saying anything?’ I had to tell them that he is not a yeller,” said Charity Singleton, his wife of three years. “He has coached them, and they know exactly what they need to do. It worked. He won championships.”
He also won respect. His living room was often full of teens who welcomed his guidance and his unrestrained straight-shot humor.
Singleton, 45, died July 28, one month after heart transplant surgery. Family members and friends had hoped the surgery would solve an ailment that suddenly appeared five years ago. It wasn’t to be. Singleton died on his third wedding anniversary, leaving behind his wife, parents, a brother, a sister, four daughters — Gabrielle, Arielle, Sharielle and Zharielle — and a stepson, Todd Johnson.
“He was humble and would do anything for anybody,” Charity said.
When his parents’ gutters became clogged, Singleton hopped in his car after work and drove 400 miles to Kankakee to clean and make sure his dad didn’t fall off a ladder. When his stepson was not allowed to play football with the other junior high kids because he was small, Singleton paid the school a visit. Soon Todd was not only playing football, but Singleton was on the staff, coaching kids.
“He took me under his wing and taught me special things that other kids would not know,” Todd said. “He basically made me a smarter player, taught me how to think more in-depth.”
The hiring proved serendipitous. Singleton spent years driving forklifts for Kmart warehouses, prepping food at Old Country Buffet and managing housekeeping for the Embassy Suites Hotel in Brooklyn Center. His new job brought him back to his love of sports.
He grew up breaking records and being featured in news articles. His picture still hangs in Kankakee High School. No one has broken his 1987 record for the 200-meter dash. He raised all four of his daughters to love track and other sports.
Congestive heart failure abruptly stopped Singleton’s heart in August 2014. Surgeons installed two temporary heart pumps and put him on a heart transplant list. Used to hard work, Singleton tried to stay busy during the long wait. “The doctors said he was a fighter. He didn’t sit around,” said his mother, Lee Anna Singleton. Al went to the park, rode his bike and honed cooking skills that first appeared in his mother’s kitchen nearly 40 years ago.
For eight months, with Charity’s help, he whipped up Saturday dinners for the small crew in Judy’s Beauty Salon in Brooklyn Park. Then he catered a graduation party, a birthday party and an open house. “We were just getting into catering before he passed away,” Charity said. “He was quite the chef. He specialized in seafood salad that he should have patented, and his shrimp-fried rice should have been patented, too. His ribs were just ridiculous. Phenomenal.”
He was preparing a small feast for his soon-to-be visiting mom and aunt when the phone rang in late June. His doctors had a new heart for him. “He called me at 11:30. He was crying. He was so happy,” his mother said. “Everybody thought that the transplant was going to work.”
He never left the hospital. Services have been held in both Minneapolis and Illinois.