Twenty summers ago, I received a phone call from Maureen Houston, an editor of the Sunday Magazine, asking if I would be interested in writing a column.
I was surprised. It had been more than a decade since I had written a column or story for this newspaper. I had worked as a features/sports writer in the 1980s after graduating from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville but had moved on to a new career. My friend, Keith Schopp, had just stepped aside from writing his column in the Sunday Magazine. I was a big fan of Keith’s column.
I pondered for a few days. Did I really want to write a column? I was living a quiet, non-public life. Schopp’s columns were entertaining. Did I want to follow him?
What the heck. Sure, I told Maureen. Over the summer, I’ll write a few columns. If they don’t meet expectations, I will step aside in the fall. No problem. No feelings hurt. Thanks for asking.
That was 20 years ago, July 1997. My first column in the Sunday Magazine was about Tiger Woods, who had just started taking over the golf scene. It was really more about my son, Corey, who was 5 years old at the time. The column began: “On a summer evening, Tiger Woods shoots below par and my 5-year-old son catches his first fish. On the radio, Tiger’s Dad is being interviewed. He talks of Tiger’s childhood commitment to become the best golfer ever. “By age 5, I knew Tiger had been called,” said Earl Woods.
The call? I never listened for one, as a kid or parent.
My next column was about my 20th high school reunion, followed by a column/tribute to successful chubby people — The Chub Club.
The “hard news” has continued for another 20 years. I’ve kept writing columns every two weeks. More than 500 of them. Stories about my parents, grandparents and parenthood. Old schools and childhood neighborhoods. Advice to graduating classes. The good old days. Simpler times. Baseball. Golf. My children. One column at a time. Keep it light and fun, editors advised. Sunday morning reading.
Ten years ago, I wrote a column commemorating a decade writing columns. My late friend and coach R.J. Krause wrote a letter-to-the-editor of this newspaper congratulating me. It was a big deal to him. Over the years, I wrote about R.J. Krause a few times. He was my former youth coach and neighbor. A great guy. One of a kind.
I write a lot about my childhood. I grew up in the best era to be a kid. Our childhood world in the 1960-70s was safe and secure. We had freedom to roam. And our parents let us be kids. Bad hair. Great music. I grew up in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
What have been my favorite columns?
I have enjoyed writing about my late parents and grandparents. My favorite column may be one of the first I wrote in fall 1997 about putting up a basketball pole in the driveway with my late Dad. “You can never use too much concrete,” was the headline. We did.
I wrote about former teachers and coaches like R.J. Krause, George Martz, Glenn Schott, Barney Elser, John Schmidt, Lou Wappel. They were positive influences on my life. Same for old grade school teachers like Mrs. Wigginton, Mrs. Mathews and Mrs. Wylie at the old St. Philip’s Grade School. And Professor Bill Ward, my journalism instructor at SIUE.
I have written about friends and family who have died. Jimmy Klein of Cairo. Charlie Leonard of Belleville. My Aunt Marie Tockstein.
My two children, Corey and Cara, have been raised with Dad’s column being in the paper. Of course, I’ve written about them and parenthood. I have tried not to embarrass them.
Any columns I’ve regretted? Sure. A few of them. That’s life, though. Live and learn. Move on.
People greet me, “Hey, you’re that guy in the paper, aren’t you?” Yep. That guy. Thinks he’s funny. Stuck in the past. Loves sports. Old redhead. Gets sappy occasionally. That guy.
How long will it last? Doubtful there will be another 20 years of writing columns every other Sunday. I don’t want to be that old guy always writing about the old days. (Heck, maybe I’m him already?)
Until then, well, it’s one column at a time, every other Sunday. Nothing fancy here. Memories. A few wise cracks. One guy’s view. From my heart. Thanks for reading.