The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 18, 2017

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 18, 2017

Happy Hope-You-Don't-Already-Have-This-Power-Tool Day to all the impossible-to-shop-for fathers out there. Picking up where we left off last week, we asked sons and daughters to describe the most memorable childhood activity they did with Dad.

PANCHO MOORE
Champaign Central girls' basketball coach and son of Champaign Bishop Lloyd Gwin

"Naturally, it would be him playing basketball in the driveway. My dad was a football guy so he was always pushing me into the garage doors and having me play passing lanes like a free safety.

"To this day, I don't think anyone loves defense as much I do because of him. My Champaign Lady Maroons are a direct reflection of what he instilled in me."

DIANA LENZI
Dike Eddleman's daughter

"Second to being a loyal Illini fan, my father, Dike Eddleman, was an avid Chicago Cubs fan. I am the oldest of four children. Since my father was noted for his sports achievements, I always wanted to be athletic to make him proud. That simply wasn't meant to be for this girly girl.

"There were so many special times spent with my dad growing up in Gibson City. The one that stands was spending Saturday afternoons on our back patio listening to Cubs games on the radio. These were some of our best one-on-one moments together. He loved soaking up the sun and often would have a Schlitz beer in one hand and a Dutch Masters cigar in the other.

"One Saturday afternoon while listening to our beloved Cubbies, he let me have a sip of his beer and a puff of his cigar. He was a smart guy. To this day, I can't stand either one."

FEMI FLETCHER
Executive assistant, Urbana Fire Department

"When I was young, my dad wrote for a community newsletter in his free time. It was called 'Ground Level Critique'; I remember the tagline: 'Critical perspectives on contemporary issues facing African Americans.' They only published a few quarterly editions during his time there, but it was a very big and important part of his life while it lasted.

"I loved the atmosphere in the publishing headquarters, which was just a few blocks from our house. So Daddy often let me come to watch them work.

"It was the early '90s, and I was still in elementary school. After school, almost every day for about three years, he and I would walk from our house to the office, and that was our time together. We would talk about math, which I hated, and literature, which I loved, and he would teach me how to sing on pitch. Some days, he would ask my opinion on a topic he was writing about, like politics or education; other days, we would play Red Light, Green Light. If it was cold, we would bundle up and walk briskly, and when it got hot he would carry my backpack so I wouldn't complain.

"Those walks defined my relationship with him, and they created an inimitable bond between the two of us."

JENNIFER GOVER BANNON
Champaign assistant city attorney

"My first job in high school was working for my dad at J. Logan Gover Insurance Company in Mattoon. His dad started the business around 1925 or 1930, and my dad has sold insurance there continuously since 1964.

"I don't think he really needed the help; rather, he used those summers to teach me lessons. On my first day, he told me to dress nicely because I'd be helping customers. Then, when I arrived in my Sunday best, he had me clean the bathrooms and spray the parking lot for weeds in the blistering July sun. I think he wanted me to understand that as a small business owner, you have to be professional for your customers but also humble and willing to scrub the toilets.

"Mostly, I shredded old files, answered the phones and drove along with him to elderly customers' homes to write their policies for them. I remember typing up hundreds of advertising postcards on a manual typewriter. My dad's office faithfully maintains its original 'Mad Men'-style décor and technology."One of the things my dad impressed on me the most was the importance of making human connections. He rarely pays for gas at the pump or uses the drive-thru at a restaurant. He prefers to go inside and have a face-to-face conversation. He always asks people's first names, and if they're young, he asks where they go to school and what they are studying. My dad can spend five minutes grabbing a hamburger, and emerge knowing someone's life story. He makes people feel valued, and it's not an act.

"I learned a lot from that job, and the time I spent with my dad was irreplaceable."

JOEL BEESLEY
Uni High teacher

"My father would agree that he was not the top athlete in the family, but that never stopped him from supporting my sister and I in our passions. My fondest memory of my father-son times were all the times he spent driving me and often my friends to sporting events — criss-crossing Indiana to watch the top teams in the state play with a van full of middle school boys and fart jokes, or real farts, in our sweet '80s conversion van.

"Both of my parents always were our No. 1 supporters, as they are now with their grandchildren. That is something which has always stuck with me, and I hope Kathie and I have done the same."

MELIXA RIVERA-SUSTACHE
Chemical engineer researcher, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

"My dad, Pedro Rivera-Vega, used to have a 1986 red, fast Ford Mustang coupe. By the time I was 9 or 10, that car broke more times than I could count. We lived in Puerto Rico and, between the hot, humid weather and all the hills, damage was bound to occur.

"My dad is a very smart and versatile man, so he would fix it himself. Whenever that happened, he'd call me to teach me how to fix the car and all the things I should do for maintenance.

"Afterwards, he'd take me on a test drive, always turning on the windshield wipers and saying 'Look at this extra power.' It made me chuckle every single time.

"I am now a muscle car lover, which makes me a really cool wife."

JIM HEFFERNAN
UI wrestling coach

"Because of my father's job, we moved from Chicago to Cleveland. When we would drive back and forth, we'd always pass through Toledo, where my dad played football. Without fail, he would ask us all to be quiet, roll down the window in the car and say: 'If you listen very carefully, you can still hear the fans cheering for me.' As I got older, I realized he was probably just hoping for a few seconds of quiet with all of us in the car.

"Keep in mind: I am from a family of nine kids — six boys, three girls — so the one-on-one time with my father was usually driving home late at night from a wrestling tournament. Of all the males in our family, he was maybe the best athlete. He was a quarterback, but could do anything in any sport and looked like he'd been doing it his entire life.

"I can't count the times my dad, my oldest brother and one of my younger brothers spent in the back yard doing something sports-related. If it wasn't football, he'd flip over a 5-gallon bucket, sit on it and play catcher for hours while we threw to him. If it wasn't sports, he'd sit with us and work on book reports, papers for school or watch a military movie on a rainy day and give us a history lesson.

"These were things that we did at length on weekends and loved to do — but always after we polished his Marine corps brass belt and lapel pins, starched his hats and got our hair cut every Saturday morning.

"As much as he loved his sports, he had a great sense of humor, he could sit and talk about the most popular Broadway plays, know the music to the plays, discuss classic literature — he was always a step ahead of us when we were assigned books in high school and tried to discuss them with him. At the same time, he made the effort to entertain and spend time with all of us. We, and I mean all nine of us, had fantastic childhoods — and my parents found a way to make it work for all of us."

BRIAN EGEBERG
President, Commerce Bank of Champaign

"I remember most fondly the memorable experiences our family camping and fishing trips gave us. The one that sticks with me today: We were in the Black Hills of South Dakota, tent camping near a stream we were fishing for trout out of.

"That night, it rained really hard and next thing you know, we had water pouring in our tent. I won't repeat the words that came out of my father's mouth — or the fact Mom reminded him multiple times that he pitched the tent too close to the stream. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the night in the car and Pops wasn't too happy.

"A buddy and I visited the exact place 37 years later and I fished the same stream for trout. No luck but I smiled about it anyway.

"Great memories. Wish we took the time to make more. Time, sadly, is one of those things that you don't get back. Spend it wisely."

SHEILA DODD
Executive director, Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County

"Growing up, my dad was a mechanic for Illinois Power. He encouraged all his kids to be independent, particularly when it came to our cars.

"When I bought my first vehicle, he wanted me to understand the basics of taking care of the car. We had many Saturday mornings where he taught me how to change the oil, what the air filter was, even how to rotate the tires.

"There were eight kids in the family so when we traveled, we camped. It was a way we could afford for all of us to spend time together. One of my dad's favorite sayings that has been passed down to the next generation is 'Bring on the sunshine.' He loves to travel and has passed his sense of adventure on to me. I still love to travel and remember fondly the many places we have been together.

"I feel blessed to have him not only as my dad but also my friend."

BARB GARVEY
Director, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Mahomet

“My dad, H. Fred Oehlschlaeger — ‘HFO,’ as he was fondly known — had an insatiable desire to learn and to grow. He was born three weeks before the end of World War I, graduated from high school during the Great Depression and spent 51 months in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He returned from his stint in the Pacific and got his Ph.D. in chemistry on the GI Bill. Eventually, he became the research director of an intermediate chemical company. But from the youngest age, he was interested in everything. 

“According to family lore, Dad purchased snakes through the mail — unbeknownst to his parents — and scared his grandmother’s card party friends with them. His extraordinarily broad range of interests made for an incredibly rich childhood for my brother Fritz and me, and has made us both insatiably curious ourselves. 

“When Mom and Dad purchased a half-acre in the country just beyond the suburbs of Cincinnati, Dad immediately planted an orchard, grapevines and a vegetable garden. We had apples, plums, pears, cherries, nectarines, peaches and apricots. From his grapes he made wine, from his apricots he made liqueur. One time, just before a dinner party, a large carboy of apricot liqueur exploded in a central closet of the house and oozed out into all the surrounding rooms. My mother was not happy. After that, he was consigned to the garage for most of his hijinks. 

“His wine wasn’t always the best, and occasionally he would pour the wine into a bucket, add sugar to it, take a paint brush and paint our trees with it. The fermented sweet mixture attracted butterflies and moths, which we would then catch and mount — first on balsa wood with pins and bits of paper to stretch them and then in a cotton-filled, black-framed case called a Riker mount.  He also mounted a black light on the back of the house to attract moths at night. We loved dancing in the glow of the purple in our light summer clothing. 

“Together, Dad and I spent many a summer afternoon in the meadow near our house chasing after insects with nets. We made killing jars from Jif peanut butter containers and saved pill bottles to catch bugs in. We memorized the orders of insects: Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Hemiptera, Odonata. 

“Probably my most cherished memory of doing something with Dad, though, was raising moths in our garage. He purchased moth eggs — I don’t know where — and we watched those eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars. Fritz and I would go collect leaves and small branches for the caterpillars to eat. In cardboard boxes topped by window screening, we watched the caterpillars grow. One summer, we had hundreds of caterpillars in the garage — so many you could literally hear them chewing and pooping when you were nearby. We changed the leaves and the papers they pooped on repeatedly. 

“He raised Prometheus, Polyphemus, Cecropia, Luna and Io moths. The Io moths caused a very itchy rash and we had to be careful of them. When it was time for them spin their silky cocoons, we made sure they had dry, sturdy twigs to do that on, and we watched them struggle to break free of their pupa and hatch. A group of pheromone-driven wild male Polyphemus moths once beat at our garage door to get in to see the newly hatched Polyphemus female moths indoors. Eventually, our moths became specimens and Dad traded those specimens all over the world for the tropical insects.

“He exchanged Cecropias and Lunas for the iridescent blue Morpho and glorious green birdwing butterflies; he even traded for rhinoceros and goliath beetles. When he died, we gave his collection to the Cincinnati Natural History Museum. I did keep a couple of Riker mounts for myself — butterflies I caught, or raised with Dad. I keep a Cecropia moth in my office at the Museum of the Grand Prairie. On the back it reads: ‘Larva caught by Barbie in late 1962. Went into cocoon at once. Left outside all winter. Emerged first week in July 1963.’ 

“My Dad loved art and collected it. He painted with oils, acrylics and watercolors. I still own over 100 of his paintings. He threw pottery on the wheel. In the summer of 1972, we drove to Colorado so he could learn ceramic techniques from a hippie artist colony near Denver. A chemist by trade, he made hundreds of samples of the glazes he produced and kept copious records about them.  

“My dad grew orchids, at one time over a thousand in the small greenhouse he built on to the rear of our home. He cross-pollinated them and registered one successfully with the American Orchid Society, which he named for our mom. He loved trees and taught Fritz and I to identify them by their bark, their twigs and their buds, a skill I have somehow lost. He loved his rose garden, with over 40 varieties. 

“Late in life, Dad became very interested in genealogy and found some Oehlschlaeger third cousins in Germany. He corresponded with them, arranged a visit and felt at home. It warmed his heart to know there were more people to love and that he could find them this way. Dad loved his family, all of them, very much. He was an emotional man, and cried every time we left him to return to Illinois. 

“Dad was loud and boisterous and sometimes scared small children. But that was just a reflection of his love for life. He offered us all so much, such a rich life, and we all knew that he loved us because he shared his passion for everything with us all the time.”

CHRIS TAMAS
New UI volleyball coach

"My dad was a busy man but took the time to coach my fourth-grade basketball team at the local YMCA. He was passionate about the sport but he was also very fair to the rest of the team, and his passion for the game rubbed off on us.

"To speak to his passion, he got a yellow card during one of my high school volleyball games my freshman year by arguing with a referee because the referee — unjustly — called a double contact on one of my sets.

"I have a picture hanging in the house I grew up in — of my dad cheering from the bench — that will forever be seared in my thoughts now that I'm a coach. He is still my biggest fan and greatest role model today."

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