Funeral for a friend

Something happened to me last week that has never happened to me before now.

I got a phone call telling me that a friend of mine had died.

Frank Bush was 25 years older than me, and he had been ill for some time, so that wasn’t particularly surprising news. I’ve had high school classmates die, and people who were in the UW Marching Band when I was have died, so it’s not as if death is an unexpected thing at my age.

I didn’t meet Frank until 1999, the second year I was announcing Ripon College basketball on the radio. He had been at the same Ripon College games I’d attended or broadcasted previously, because he was the scoreboard operator at Ripon’s Storzer Center for many years. That was where Frank got to witness, over consecutive seasons, a coach from the same visiting college ejected twice — the first time the coach was told  by the referees to sit on the bus, the second time the coach got ejected before the game started.

I was the number three college basketball announcer until announcer number one decided to go to divinity school to become a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran minister, and announcer number two got fired after the following football season. (I worked Ripon football and basketball for nine highly enjoyable years, including two state champion football teams, with the fired announcer. That, however, is a later story.)

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the Ripon radio station carried all of the Ripon College football games and nearly all of the basketball games. (I did announce a game in Utah, though  I could never convince them to send me to California to call tournament games.) The first year, the radio station made a deal with the local Ford dealership where we would drive demonstrators to games within the state. (That got us into trouble when we mentioned the large gas tank of the Ford Excursion we were driving one game.)

Which leads to Frank and Steve Story Number One, the day the boiler stopped working inside Van Male Field House on the campus of Carroll College (now University) in Waukesha. (Oddly enough, the day was nice enough that we briefly considered dropping the top on the Mustang convertible we were driving.) It may have been colder inside the gym than outside; fans were wearing coats. During one commercial, I could hear a vacuum cleaner running in the lobby. And so when we came back from commercial, I announced, “Back at Van Male Ice Arena …” Frank stopped laughing about five minutes later.

Frank and I got along immediately. Later that season, we were announcing a Ripon doubleheader against Monmouth College. I helped my then-pregnant wife up the bleachers, and Frank looked at Jannan and said, “Is this man molesting you, ma’am?”, to which I replied, “Too late, Frank.” That day ended with a bizarre five-point play to win the game — in order, basket, foul, technical foul against the Monmouth coach (his second of the month against Ripon), and three free throws.

That season ended with two Ripon NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. The first was at Ripon, against St. John’s of Minnesota. (For a variety of reasons, Ripon probably will not host an NCAA playoff game for as long as the current Division III postseason format continues.) That was the game where Frank earned our name for him: “WHERE’S THE FOUL?” Later at the season-ending banquet, I introduced ourselves by saying that we prided ourselves on professionalism and neutral detachment, and then played a highlights tape that proved otherwise, including “WHERE’S THE FOUL???” at least twice. (Frank thought all officials had it in for Ripon. He was, of course, correct.)

The next season featured the epic Operation Krispy Kreme. Sitting at work one day, I read a Wall Street Journal story about the cult of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Krispy Kreme had no stores in Wisconsin, but there were four in the Chicago area, including one sort of on the way from Lake Forest to Jacksonville, home of Illinois College. So I told Frank that  we needed to stop at Krispy Kreme on our way out of Chicago between halves one and two of our Lake Forest–Illinois College marathon.

By the time we left, I had a list the length of my arm of Krispy Kremes to get, from Jannan’s coworkers, who had heard of Krispy Kreme and had made orders. The Lake Forest men’s game went into overtime, which made me concerned that we wouldn’t get to the Krispy Kreme before closing time at midnight. We did get there, with 20 minutes to spare, and the place was full. Frank always marveled at how I was able to eat doughnuts, drink coffee, talk on the phone and drive a stickshift. We arrived at Jacksonville at 3:40 a.m. I got back to Ripon at the following 3:25 a.m.

Working with Frank I developed an affinity for working with partners older than me. In addition to making me feel younger than I actually am, the old guys have forgotten more about local sports than most people know. They provide great perspective in comparing teams and players of the present to teams and players of the past. And the best ones keep up with what’s going on now instead of, to quote Jethro Tull, living in the past.

I thought the Frank and Steve show was over after I took a job at a college not named Ripon, and the radio station discontinued doing college games. We fed him, he entertained the kids who knew him as Uncle Frank, and he brought over car books and magazines for me to read. Frank and I figured out that we had more in common besides sports — interest in cars, so we went to the Iola Old Car Show and the Milwaukee Auto Show. Frank had worked for several car dealerships over the years, and the stories he told about hot cars he got to drive made me envious. For another, Frank unsuccessfully tried to get his employer, Mercury Marine, to hire me. Frank moved to the Twin Cities, had a heart attack and resulting septuple bypass (so of course I told him he had more bypasses than the Twin Cities).

Then The Ripon Channel, which hired me to announce Ripon High School games (starting with a good place to start, the 2003 Ripon football season, which ended with a big gold trophy), decided to start doing Ripon College games as well. We did only home games, and no postseason games (because there were no home postseason games), but we still made sure we had a good time doing it. And then our audience expanded (theoretically) worldwide when the Midwest Conference started livestreaming games, which meant the Frank and Steve Show went (theoretically) worldwide. I like to think that Frank and I did the best broadcasts in the conference because we were not students, we therefore knew what we were doing, we prepared for games, and, well, one of us tried to be, if not neutral, then at least not outrageously biased. (We were also told in a memo the Midwest Conference sent to us announcers to respect the officials’ decisions on the air. I’m not sure Frank read that part.)

Frank occasionally had to sub for me as well because I was sometimes triple-scheduled, since I was calling high school games with one announcer, Ripon College games with Frank, and for one season Marian College hockey games. I had work obligations one night, so Frank and his old partner (who was doing high school games) did two games in Beloit. Driving home after work, I enjoyed listening to the two announcers whose combined ages were approximately 130.

The one thing we didn’t get to announce together was baseball. And that’s too bad because baseball on the radio is a storyteller’s dream. Frank called Ripon Tiger baseball in 1988 when the Tigers won their first state championship. Before the Tigers’ 2000 state tournament (when the 2000 Tigers duplicated the 1988 Tigers’ and 2011 Tigers‘ feats), the radio station carried the bottom of the seventh inning of the 1988 Class B championship game. With the score tied 3–3, Ripon’s Scott Young walked and stole second base. The catcher then failed to field a pitch, Young ran to third, and kept going. And as Frank described it, “He’s gonna run, he’s gonna run, he’s gonna score!”, but he was so shocked that his partner had to announce that Ripon had just won their first state baseball title. Frank and I, along with Jannan and one-month-old Michael, watched the 2000 title, and our two boys and I watched the 2011 title. We tried to find a radio station to have us announce the 2010 American Legion regional tournament in South Dakota, but we were unsuccessful.

Frank was from Webster Groves, Mo., whose high school has one of the longest running rivalries, against Kirkwood, Mo. Frank always let me know how the Webster Groves–Kirkwood game went. (Frank was born one year after Harry Caray’s oldest son, Harry Jr., more well known as Skip. I’m not sure Frank ever met Harry, but he knew Skip from high school.) Frank joined the Air Force after he graduated from high school, and the Air Force sent him to Truax Field in Madison. That’s what got him to Wisconsin. I knew most of the Madison history he lived through; he mentioned a couple of bars on Madison’s Northeast Side the last time I talked to him.

Frank was on Ripon’s Police and Fire Committee, where he immediately had a run-in with one of the senior committee members. (Frank was not one to suffer fools silently.) After the meeting, he called the mayor who had appointed him and said, “I thought you were my friend.” Frank also served on Ripon’s Park Board. If there’s a sport Frank didn’t help with in Ripon, I’m not aware of it.

Another fact not widely known: Frank was involved with boxing, and announced Golden Gloves boxing on WBAY-TV in Green Bay. Frank told the story of one of his sons being bullied by a RHS football player, and Frank’s offering to the player’s coach to settle it by having his son and the bully meet in a boxing ring. The bully swung and missed on his first punch, and, well, he never got another punch in.

Frank moved down to St. Louis to be close to his remaining sister. She died last year, and he was in the process of settling her estate. He had talked about moving back to Wisconsin, but he became ill shortly after that.

I’m told a memorial service will be held in Ripon later this year. He touched a lot of lives in Ripon, and beyond.

2 thoughts on “Funeral for a friend

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