Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Almost Goodbye

Most of you know the story of my Dad.  He's known  to US99.5 listeners as "Big Ray". He's been fighting Alzheimer's like a boss with the help of my Mom.

My life is no different than yours. Lots of ups, great times and a few rough patches. My Dad has always been a constant in my life. He was my first friend, first teacher and first boss, He was my snowmobile partner. He was my fishing guide. He was my personal banker when I needed a loan. I drank my first beer with him. Quite simply he was my guy.

Now, don't read this wrong, my Dad is still here.  Although, he did give us quite a scare this past weekend right to the point of my Mom saying goodbye to him.

The reason I talk of some of the things we did in the past tense is Alzheimer's has stolen him from me. It's brutal.  It turned my hero of a man into a small child. It's taken his ability to comprehend. Nowadays, you kinda live for the very rare moment of clarity.

This past Saturday I was getting ready to hit day #2 of Lake shake and I got the call I have been waiting for. "Get up here, Drive safe, but get here" Now, I'm with my folks most every weekend trying to help but this weekend it was time to stay home. This time it wasn't good.

As I drove north I thought wow this is it. He's gonna be gone. My ex-wife, who my dad loves, was on the phone with me. She's one of his favorites, at times I'm glad he can't remember because her being gone would break his heart. My Cheyenne was calling asking if she should go because she didn't want me to be lonely. All in all, we were ready to say goodbye. and to a person I think we were all good with it.

So, Saturday I get to Wausau, Wisconsin in about 3 hours and I get another call,  "Dad sat up in bed and said when can I go home" and really just like that he was back. It was surreal. I'm in my truck driving that 39-51 drive we have driven thousands of times ready to bring dad home and he fools us all.

US99.5 listeners were all over my FB post sending well wishes. I felt I needed to keep you updated. You couldn't have been nicer. This whole time you have treated me like a part of your family. I read all your messages. Simply put, you're family and the epitome of humble and kind.

I know  the time we have left is small and I'm OK knowing that!  We have had a good run. How many guys get to say they have done all this stuff with their Dad. I can and I have no regrets. I will keep you posted on this journey and pray that you never have to deal with this. But this is life and inevitably we will all go through this at some point.

Thanks for being there for me!


Monday, February 15, 2016

Hard day to be on the Radio, And so long to a friend.

Funny how the world turns, I have one of the best weekends in recent memory and then thanks to the wonders of Facebook I find out one of my favorite Radio friends has passed.
Now let me explain what a "Radio Friend" Its someone who was there at the start, someone you grew with. Someone that helped you as you helped them. Someone who experienced  this medium at its purest form when we only wanted to have a "good break" and perhaps someday  make it to the big stage.
For most of us the "big stage" was Chicago, and from a little Mom and Pop station out in the western suburbs called WAUR, several of us made it to that stage.
Today my heart is broken. My friend, and one of the best and coolest women to ever grace the radio has passed. Megan Reed (Casey) ended her fight with cancer. I say ended because when you fight that hard for that long you don't lose.
Today my friends Bruce, Todd, Susan, Chuck, Jonathon, Jim, (the core of WAUR) Are devastated, by her loss.
I will always remember her grace, My friend Susan Wincek from WSHE, would call and say " Ray call and make Meg laugh" I would call and she would talk of how she went to school with my sons football coach in Batavia, and how she would brag on him. Then she would tell me how talented she thinks my daughter is. I would leave the call thinking, how did she just make that call about me? But that's what great people do they make you the focus.
I hope somehow I helped her take her mind off her struggles if just for a second.
To Megs husband Steve and her beautiful baby's I send my prayers for you. How awesome to have such a force of grace and power and love to have touched your life.
Rest well my sweet sweet friend, I certainly will never forget you.

Hell of a day to be on the radio.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Hows Katmans kid doing?"

I cant tell you how many times I hear that question in the Course of a year at US99.5.
John the "Katman" Katzback was a zenith, a superstar in Chicago radio making his way in life. By all accounts a great guy. I mean everyone loved this guy.
Honestly a lot of people who worked the morning show back then were closer to him than me. But the following is why and how his passing shaped my life.
John and I would cross paths on weekends when he came in last minute to do his "cutting edge show" usually with his beautiful wife Leslie on his arm providing fodder, and usually two or three beers in after a weekend cubs game.
We never talked radio much, Just our future wife's as we were both engaged, later we had kids just a few months apart I was hired to do nights at US99, He was the new kid on the morning show with my friend and mentor JD Spangler.
I will always remember when I got the call that John had passed, I was building a deck on the very first house I owned in West Chicago. It was shock, followed by hurt that he and Les had just had a baby named Max. At that point you don't give a shit about your job, you just ponder the question that has no answers. That question is why?
Management at US99 thought it was a good idea to get someone to get in and help the morning show immediately after John passing, They called me. I said no. They said "You don't have a choice" I hesitated as anyone would, But as it turns out JD needed me. the rest is history.
Yesterday I got a message on my Facebook from Max, Johns son. "Hey are you the guy that worked with my dad, I'm his son" we then went on to send several messages that ended in a promise to take him to a Cubs game, Just like his dad would have wanted us too. Its long overdue.
By all accounts he's doing well, and judging from his pictures he is his fathers son. I love that.
When I said he shaped my life here's why, We were the same age, Going through the same thing. We had kids. I always think of how Max missed out on so much with John being gone. Honestly you wonder why it wasn't you. There's a bit of guilt. And then you talk to his boy and it all comes back.
To US99 listeners, if you remember the Katman his boy is doing well, so is his family and his mom, and rest assured that someday this summer under a clear blue sky, The guys who drank with his dad will now drink one, or two with him.
What JD Spangler built, Is different now. But the core of that group all keeps in touch. Big, Mick, T get ready we have a game to attend.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Turf Turf Baby.

I will always remember the day a long time Batavia Townie told me," You big city types move out here and try to change this place" We don't need turf football field for these kids. Not worth it, it will raise my taxes he mumbled. Then he than got in his car and sat in the traffic that has no other option than the one bridge in this town. I started to see a pattern.

I'm from West Chicago,I believe by way of Fermi Lab we share a border. I'm pretty sure I'm not the "Big City" type, Although by way of what I do for a living I can see why he may have thought that way.

But the fact is this, My son (providing he has good health and a little good luck), Will play only four more games(excluding playoff games) on this new field So I don't really have that big of a horse in this race.

Here's what the people who worry about what this will do to their tax base don't understand.
How do you put a price on a kids health? My sons knees, his ankles? you cant.

Furthermore Look at your taxes now, If you live in this district you have to wonder where all your tax money goes. I own two homes here, 23,000 in taxes... I think we need to fire whoever appropriates our money and get them tossed.

This is a town that has that new fancy "city center" With the arch that pretty much serves as the gateway to the trailer court up the street. Don't tell me this field is a overzealous expenditure.

Someone needs to understand what Football, The cheer and Pom teams, Band, and the Dawg pound mean to this community. To these kids. Its our job as a community to build great kids. Its our future. How hard is this to grasp? If you don't get how this works take a look at what goes on 20 miles to the east. I think you get the jist.

But the beauty in this deal is that the turf is going in, Its done, Its a deal. And the boosters and fundraisers are what did it. Along with a 7-0 board  vote.

You see that's the beauty the aforementioned community I talked about, We did this as a team, And I'm sure that the people that make up this community had the chance to have a good education, and support along the way. Its what shapes us. Its what will shape these kids. It makes no difference if your kid is on a football or a soccer team. Or if your child  is in one of the many productions in Batavia's state of art Arts performing center. Quite simply they deserve to have these facility's

Batavia is a cool hard working town, and although the one bridge drives me crazy it also lends to its charm.

And to the lady that always writes to a newspaper that has less ciculation than my twitter account. The kids and this town have won. You should be lucky enough to know these kids as well as we do.
But, judging  From your colder than Isis mentality you don't deserve it.

In the words of my friend and the Bulldogs long time announcer Rudy, TURF FIELD BATAVIA!



Monday, November 16, 2015

Close the door Five Four!

I wont lie when my kids on the field I watch him, Its hard for me to watch the whole field because I'm watching his footwork, watching him usually try and work around guys that outweigh him at times by more than 100lbs. He usually does a pretty good job. After Saturdays loss I was proud of him. Proud of the way he worked, proud of the way he prepared. But mostly proud of how he keeps it in perspective.

No one hesitates in Batavia to hit the field after a win or loss to be with the boys, This year it was mostly wins. But Saturday was different, it was Moms, Dads, Brothers, Sisters, Family. Boys knowing it the last time these guys would play together as a team. For some it was the last time they would play the game. It quite simply was over.

Or was it?

Later that night while the parents were off doing their thing the boys were still together, eating at a fast food joint together. Then visiting a banged up teammate, Then getting more food, Scaling the fence at the football field and working their way up to the press box. where they would hang, goof, and eventually head to a buddy's house where they spent the night.

I thought perhaps my guy would need his mom and dad after a loss..... but why would he? he needed the brothers that he had been with since this all began. He needed the guys that pushed him to get in the 1000lb club the ones that were there puking during two a days. The ones that know him better then he and his mom think we know him, he needed his teammates. They needed him.

Thanks to the wonders of social media I watched one by one how these senior boys posted thanks to their teammates, coaches, parents, and their town for letting them be part of something so cool, When in fact this town, This school, Us parents should be thanking them!

I think I will be lost Friday night when I'm not in the stands with my Friend Dick Anderson, two guys just wanting good things for their kids. But this has nothing  to do with parents, It has to do with boys becoming men. Some (with hesitation) growing up.

Let me use this form of social media to thank these boys for being better than I ever was. Thanks for what you have done to mentor the Juniors and Sophomore's.

I always yell "close the door Five Four" when the kid makes a big play. Close the door 54 lets head up north and see Grandma and Grandpa, lets see if we can catch some late season Muskie.

What a year.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Football in Small town USA.

The funny thing about being a "Chicago guy" is where I'm from. I grew up in West Chicago, not the West Chicago that many of you know today, but the blue collar, hardworking, under respected town that it once was. Growing up in a blue collar town prepared me for life, and it's where I got my grit.

After leaving West Chicago, I landed in Batavia with Gina, Cheyenne, and my little Man Conner. Batavia is not the "jewel" of the Fox Valley, and certainly not the party town of St. Charles, nor the Glam of Geneva, but a town fitting of where I come from. Batavia is a town that works hard and has some of the best that could be offered as far as "Friday night lights"

Playoff football in this town is a big deal, but it never becomes what this town is about. It's about kids that work hard all year long, play hard and win because of their hard work. I try to explain to my kid every week that this is fun, just a game.Theres not a Friday that goes by that I don't tell him how much he means to his Mother and Me, and his sisters. This is a small piece of life that won't define him, but instead will shape and prepare him. He will look back and say "wow that was pretty bad ass".

When the aforementioned  town of West Chicago and their High School put me in their hall of fame it was Conner a 16 year old kid that I cited as my hero. How in the world does the pupil become the teacher? Allow me to explain...

It has to do with his town, Batavia. He bleeds Batavia. He lays it out every week as an undersized D-end because this town from flag football to High School taught him to work hard and play for each other, they taught him respect.

The funny thing about him is he's just like every other kid out there. This code of brotherhood is not lost on him, it's in every one of these guys, to a man people talk about "kids these days" Hell the way I see it they are way better than the "kids those days.

Batavia football is not played on a fancy field, the stadium is actually sub par. But when you factor in the parents, the fans, and the players it's as good as any in the world. That has to do with the coaches that make these kids believe. They make them understand that the sum of 11 equals 1. That there's no one component that's bigger than the colors they wear every Friday or Saturday.

A year or so ago we had a referendum in this town that asked residents to allow a bigger field, a safer playing surface, and better accoutrements for fans, It didn't pass. It wasn't even close. People complained that the cost would somehow effect their taxes and these kids simply are not worth it.

But to these kids it didn't matter.  To these coaches it could have been a letdown. But it never shows. Because when your the underdog, When others count you out, When the so called "High school football experts" (sad that there is such a thing as a critic at this level) never give your program a chance it gives you charterer. And when you have a group of coaches that make you believe that you can do great things. You do it.

Funny thing about this town and these kids is this, They could be 0-10, You would still love them for who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

I hope it's this way at every program. But I know it's not.

And someday when your choosing a town, I hope you choose as well as my family did. In my life I have had the chance to do things I never would have dreamed. Nothing in the world can make a guy happier then knowing his kid and his buddies, dare I say brothers are part of feeling that some may never know. Hopefully it will turn your kid into your hero as well.

No win or loss can diminish that, No un-passed referendum can keep a winner down. To my kid and his friends be proud you get a chance to play the game in "Small town USA"


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

So long to a friend

So this week I was given the news that a long time listener and friend had passed.

Now growing up Catholic I never knew you could actually be "friends" with a Nun. When your a kid Nuns are like really really sacred, And in most cases they scared the hell out of me. I mean these are the messengers right to Jesus Christ, And when your a Ramblin' Ray there's some things that ya may want to hide from time to time.

Enter a woman I met at a Church benefit in Schererville Indiana more than 20 years ago. Her name was Sister  Shaun Mitchell, Honestly one of the most sincere caring people I have ever met in my life. She was a big country music fan, She loved Alan Jackson and would talk to me about him and his music all the time. As time would pass we would keep in touch. But she never let me go without a "play some Alan Jackson, He's good you know".

Sister lived a life that's hard to fathom she was a servant to a calling that never waivered, She had many health problems that included dialysis, and later a kidney transplant. She had great amounts of pain and hospital stays in the last six years but you would never know it. Its lesson that we can all learn from, That if you believe, If you have faith you will always persevere. Something that can get lost on a guy like me from time to time.

Its been a tough few years for me, Sister knew my Gina and loved my family. When I told her I was getting divorced she knew I was sad, when no one else did, Or really no one else seemed to care. She would tell me that no matter what " Jesus loved me" and he always would. And she did this with a firm voice enough for me to believe. And that was her beauty, no matter her pain she cared more about you than herself.

Her pain included a brother that never came home from Viet Nam, we would talk about him from time to time and I think today she is finally with him, Her questions about him finally answered. and Finally she is pain free on a street of gold with her creator she so loved.

She loved my old Friend Trish Biondo, and Trish loved her. I'm told that at her service the pictures of her US99.5 friends will be part of her remembrance, Sister also left her mark on US99.5 listeners, Many of whom remembered her and my antics together on our Facebook page.

You can bet that Thursday I will make the service to say so long to an old friend, And as I traverse this crazy life I will remember her voice always reassuring me that no matter my mistakes, That someone up there is watching over me. I now know this as a fact.

Rest well my dear sweet sister, and as I used to ask you "Throw one down for me"