We received the sad, but not unexpected, news that my friend and brother-in-law, Dean "Eagle" Winterhof, had died peacefully. It had been a rough couple of weeks for everyone since Eagle was diagnosed with two strokes and lung cancer, which had spread to his brain.
Eagle had been in hospice care in his adopted hometown of Phoenix, Ariz. for the past few days, so we all knew he wouldn't be with us much longer on this Earth. Still, it's difficult to accept. When someone passes who has "lived a full life," like 85 or 90, it seems easier to accept. Eagle died at 54 years 4 months and 23 days. Too soon.
I'll remember Dean as a smiling, fun-loving, talented friend. He was a good singer (tenor) who was chosen for the All-State Choir as a senior at Aurelia High School (Class of '69). He also was a two-year starter for Nobby's (longtime Aurelia basketball coach Duane Buttenob) basketball Bulldogs, possessing a nice jump shot from the corner.
Mostly, though, I have fond memories of Dean serving as keyboard player and backup vocalist for our rock band, "The Rudabaga Bunch." Dean did not know how to play the keyboards, but we wanted him in the group for his vocals and because he was just a great and fun guy to have around.
So… we recruited his sister Elaine, who was the organist at our church, to kind of mentor him on chording on his keyboard. I remember the struggle we all had to master the solo break to "Kind Of a Drag!" But it was accomplished, and the song, along with all the other Buckinghams' tunes, which all featured the keyboard, became a staple of our repertoire.
It was a pleasure knowing Dean and having him in the group, and, as an added bonus, his membership brought his "kid sisters" - Janet and Joyce - into the Rudabaga "family" as well. Janet ultimately became my wife and the mother of my children. So, in a way, I have Eagle to thank for bringing me into his wonderful Winterhof family.
So, Eagle, thanks for that, and I'm glad you'll be able to use your marvelous voice again in the heavenly choir.
(Editor's note: Aurelia native Dan Whitney is a new correspondent representing the Aurelia area for the Chronicle Times. He will be reporting on events of interest in the Aurelia community and area, and also periodically writing a column titled "Basic Biittner." Dan's buddies gave him that familiar nick-name as a youngster in honor of Pocahontas native and Buena Vista College star baseball player Larry Biittner, who had a 10-year career in the major leagues, including a few notable years with the Chicago Cubs. We deeply regret the fact that Dan's first column, written April 27, the morning he learned of his brother-in-law's passing, must serve as a eulogy to Eagle, a good friend to all who knew him, including the Chronicle Times management.)