One of the rewards of this racket we call journalism is the people we meet.
I could never be able to accurately count how many people I’ve met through the job of being a writer, photographer and editor since I started in the business as a high school kid in 1977 in Joliet.
If it’s not in the 10,000 range, it has to be darn close. It could be a lot more.
I’ve met the famous — Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Walter Payton, Sammy Sosa, Shaq and Eddie Vedder to name a few — and I have met the infamous — Rod Blagojevich, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman and Joe Paterno to name a few.
Jessie Jackson Sr. once slapped me on the back on a Father’s Day. The hated professional wrestler known as the Iron Sheik told me he helped coach United States Olympic wrestlers. This is the same guy whose gimmick was to spit on the American flag and sing the Iranian National Anthem and insult our country.
I once had to give directions to hard-hitting TV journalist Walter Jacobsen where a washroom was located. If not for me, he might have wet his pants that night!
I once cursed at then-WSCR reporter Mike Greenberg to pipe down when he was bellowing into the phone in the Packers press box in Green Bay. I guess my profane admonishment didn’t derail his career as he is one of the Mikes in the nationally syndicated “Mike and Mike in the Morning” radio show on ESPN and has written a couple of books, to boot. He’s a big success, but hopefully, he’s not yelling into phones anymore.
The coolest celebrity I met was Mel Blanc — the voice of hundreds, including Bugs Bunny and the subject of last week’s WHATIZIT? photo.
Although I didn’t formerly meet them, I’ve shared the same breathing space with George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Tiger Woods, Cyndi Lauper, Barbara Eden (Jeannie!), Jerry Mathers (the Beaver!) Rob Reiner (the Meathead!), Jesse Ventura, Jeff Gordon, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Knight, Kobe Bryant and Hector “Macho” Camacho.
This is not name-dropping or bragging — it’s more of an appreciation for the wide range of people I’ve been able to get close to for even a few minutes. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the athletes, politicians, cops, firemen, teachers, students and just plain everyday folks with wonderful stories whom I’ve met on the local level.
With that long preamble out of the way, I would like to say that next week, the Reporter will unveil its top 10 news stories of 2013 and the Reporter/Regional will run its top 10 sports stories of the year.
For those who need their year-end list fix, I offer this one for ya. I submit the 10 people I’ve enjoyed meeting the most through my seven months as the Regional reporter and five as Reporter editor in 2013. In alphabetical order, they are:
This Oak Lawn resident lost his left arm and both of his legs after he was diagnosed with Legionnaires Disease in August, 2012. He lost some pretty important limbs but didn’t lose his optimism for life.
“I came to the conclusion that this is not going to change so I need to make the most of what I’ve got,” he said.
I’ve seen this comedian perform a few times over the years and heard his funny songs on the Dr. Demento radio show and enjoyed his work. I had no idea that he lived in Orland Park.
But when I found out, I immediately set up an interview and spent some time laughing it up with Tim and his wife, Chris, one late afternoon in January. The former teacher at all-girls Maria High School started out writing serious songs but that changed.
“My serious songs kind of sucked,” he said. “When I tried doing funny things, I was like ‘OK, that’s acceptable.’ Having people laugh at me — normally that’s something you don’t like but in my case, I do like it.’’
The Palos Heights running guru is a popular and likable guy who, along with former alderman Jeff Prestinario, has turned the area’s half marathon into a monster.
Diab, who was running in the Boston Marathon and was miles away when explosions hit, killing and injuring athletes. He immediately went to work when he got back to town, hosting runs and selling shirts to benefit the victims.
This Worth resident participated in the Ironman Triathlon in Louisville in late August.
She did that not long after beating cancer that in the past five years forced her to go through 33 radiation treatments and six weeks of chemotherapy.
She offers this great advice: “Don’t lie on the couch numbing your situation. Get moving. Keep going.”
I met this 60-year-old Orland Park resident a few minutes after he won the first Orland Township Senior American Idol competition in May. He had just brought the house down with his version of the Phillip Phillips hit “Home.’’
He was genuinely touched by the reception he received from the 900-plus in attendance at Georgio’s Banquets.
But in June, he and his wife, Pam, took a trip with a group to the Holy Land. On the final day of the trip, he was at the Western Wall, had a major heart attack and died. Apparently he had no major health issues.
It was a shock for those who were close to him, and I’ll admit I was pretty stunned when I heard about it and knew him for all of about five minutes.
The four-year-old from Palos Heights suffered a stroke on the plane ride home from Disney World. He had to go through five weeks of rehab at Advocate Children’s Hospital and wasn’t always the ideal patient but he was pretty popular and likened the kid to a super hero.
“Alex’s great determination allowed us as therapists to obtain goals,” his therapist, Diana Daniak said. “With Super Alex and his super suit and his cape, he literally soared and accomplished any tasks that were set before him. This hospital became and an adventure of his imagination every day.
“Despite the hair-pulling, biting, kicking and punching, Alex was the highlight of our day and always had a smile on his face,” she said. “And he always put a smile on our face.”
Ten years ago, the Evergreen Park resident and nurse at Christ Hospital felt bad for a young woman who had cancer and called some friends and loaded up three vans of stuff for the family for Christmas.
That morphed into the Christmas Without Cancer charity and it has grown to help many families not just during Christmas but during the whole year as well.
“I’ve had many gifts from God,” she said about the ten-year tenure of the organization. “It has taken on a life of its own.”
The never-say-die professional pitcher from Worth had the disappointment of being cut by the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in the past couple of years he toiled for the independent Windy City Thunderbolts in between cuts and landed a spot in the White Sox organization and was 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA in Class A ball.
The Evergreen Park Mayor survived the deadly West Nile virus and was presented with an award at Christ Medical Center for getting through it all.
The virus took its toll on his body, especially his shoulders and neck area, and when I first met him after the ceremony in September, he had a sense of humor about it. He noticed my shoelace was untied.
“I notice those things now because I see the floor a lot more now,” he joked.
Larry Thomas/The Soup Nazi
When he came to Orland Park to promote the local independent film “You Don’t Say,’’ I was able to talk with him for a half hour or so on a snowy night in March about his career and it was a ton of fun.
Not many have gained as much recognition for so little screen time as the Soup Nazi character from “Seinfeld” and his “No soup for you!” line.