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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Struck Strikes Out

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nobody answers when I call your name

Strucker, I said to myself, no matter how hard it's going to be, you just have to sit down and write it. You promised Kenny.

So, today you're finally reading about one of the coolest guys on the planet and the most fiercely loyal, dedicated Iowa prep sports fan there's ever been and ever will be.

The Kenny mentioned above is Cherokee's beloved mega-fan Kenny Bern, who in a recent six-month period tragically lost his wife, Olga, after more than 60 years of marriage, and Bob, his best friend for more than 50 years.

Kenny puts on a good show now in public, but when you visit with him alone, you can feel the burning ache in his huge heart knowing the two main people in his life are gone.

Kenny and Olga had no children, and Bob was a confirmed batchelor, so our kids - everybody's - became their "children" as they made a life of attending youth, high school, and collegiate sporting events throughout Iowa.

For more than 55 years, Kenny and Bob were best friends and shared a bond as tight or even tighter than brothers. Together, they've attended thousands of baseball games, as well as thousands of all games our high school athletes participate in. But, baseball was their one common bond, their one true love (besides Kenny's beloved Olga and Bob's beloved chew of tobacco). For nearly 30 years they planned vacations around spring training in Florida where they would drive straight through both ways and watch games day and night for 30 days without end.

Through the years, they developed an intense love for the Cherokee Braves baseball team and never missed a game, just as they never missed a Braves football or basketball game, or track and field meet, or wrestling match.

And now Bob's gone and... here, let Kenny tell you...

"We all lost a great friend and fan March 15 when Bob died. His fall and winter routine was to stop and visit with Paul at the Chronicle Times, then over to the courthouse to see Dawn (Dawn Coombs, Tyler and Tim Jones' mother), then over to our place. About 3:30 he would say we better go see what Neil (Phipps-Cherokee atletic director) is doing and we'd head to the gym or football field.

"In the summer, it was the same only at 4:15 he would always say we better go out and see if Steve (Schuck-Kyle's dad and faithful Booster Club concession worker) had any chocolate malts. Steve would grin at him and give him two, then Bob would pay him later.

"You parents and grandparents, he knew all of you even though you might not have known him, because I pointed you all out to him and he never forgot. He loved your kids and he loved you for the way you raised them.

"When I visited Bob in the hospital, mail would be stacked up on the window sill in these big piles and he would say over and over, "I can't believe it." You see, Paul wrote a column after Bob was diagnosed with terminal cancer last summer and he asked you to send cards to Bob. And, boy, did you ever.

"Grandma Pitts, what a sweetheart. We can't thank you enough for all the letters you sent him. He never did forget that cake at Carroll and talked about it all the time. To John Ege who had his lawn chair stolen at a game, Bob always joked about who would want to steal the ugliest lawn chair in town? To Doug and Julie (Miller, Dawn's parents) and Trent and Dawn for having him in their homes. Did you know that one time we sat in front of your house and hour and a half waiting for you to come home?

"And to all you great people who would stop and say Hi and visit with him at the games. We lost a great friend and a great fan. We love you all."

Kenny took the ailing Bob to the Iowa State Basketball Tournaments in Des Moines in March, just as they had gone every year for more than 50 years. When they returned and Kenny dropped Bob off at his apartment in Denison, for the first time ever, Bob Hoffman rose out of his wheelchair and gave Kenny a hug as he was leaving. Kenny wondered what that was about all the way home. And when he was told a day later that Bob had died during the night, Kenny knew Bob was telling his best friend goodby with that hug.

At his request, Bob was cremated and there was no obituary written, no funeral services.

As we all deal in individual ways with the grief of losing loved ones, Kenny Bern moves on dealing with his. When I approached Kenny at the Braves first home game this season and saw Bob's empty chair and ball cap sitting there (see photo) right beside him as always, I had to go back to my car and sit there for a while, the emotion of such a simple, symbolic, poignant scene overcoming.

A few days ago, Kenny and I were visiting in my office and I asked him how he was doing. "I'm fine," said Kenny. "But besides Olga and Bob, you know what I really miss? Bob's phone number on my call waiting. Isn't that silly? He'd always call and I'd come home and see his number and call him back and we would make our plans for the ballgames that week. I can't do that anymore."