The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Nov. 19, 2017

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Nov. 19, 2017

Picking up where we left off last week, we'll honor loved ones lost in 2017 — folks who didn't live in the spotlight — by sharing stories from sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives throughout November. If you have a story you'd like to tell us about someone special who passed away this year, email us at

By 'bonus daughter' Peggy Huson

"We met Miyoko Blair at the Regent Ballroom nearly 20 years ago, and we gradually became closer to her over several years. She was our closest friend and confidante during some rough times, and we gradually came to love and respect her as one would a mom. We celebrated birthdays and other milestones together every year.

"Miyoko, or Mary as she was known at the Regent, was devoted to ballroom dancing. She continued to dance, even when she had a slightly fractured hip and as the pain in her back and legs got worse. The movement of dancing made her feel better, and everyone at the Regent knew her. She always had her dance sheet filled with partners.

"It is hard to imagine what this strong woman overcame during her life. She grew up in Kobe, Japan, and lived through the horrors of World War II. She met an American serviceman, Frank Blair, married him and moved to Rantoul with him. She struggled to learn English, no easy task because of profound hearing loss. She raised five loving children and worked at Burnham Hospital.

"Last spring, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and decided to fight it with everything she could, but it wasn't enough. We lost her on September 28 at the age of 88. She had been to the Regent only about six weeks before that. She had been working to ensure that we got to know her children for several years because she wanted us to all be close. During her time in hospice, we were blessed to acquire five new 'siblings.'"

NEVA SWARTZ, Champaign
By son Bruce Swartz

"When my mom died on February 11, I lost a lot of things — mom, a dear friend, a wonderful grandmother and great-grandmother to our family. And I also lost my Upwords buddy.

"As long as I can remember, we played games in our family. The longtime favorite was Scrabble, but then came this strange game called Upwords, a sort of three-dimensional Scrabble. It became everyone's game of choice.

"And Mom and I played thousands of games. She even kept all the old scoresheets and had a running total of who had won the most games, highest scores, all that stuff. It led to lots of laughs, sometimes hysterics as we accidentally made up words without realizing it.

"Almost every week, we had an Upwords date night. She would fix me and Linda supper and then Mom and I would play two or three games. Linda rarely played. She had more fun listening to us.

"It seems fitting that just a week before she died, we had time to squeeze in a quick game. Mom won. Somehow, that just seems right."

By daughter Sarah Craft Miller

"It was spring of 1977 and I was sitting at my desk in my third-grade class at Flossie Wiley Elementary School. Upon entering my classroom, the whole class looked up from their work to see my dad carrying a crate of bananas, one for everyone in the class. We had an unexpected break in the school day, as we ate our bananas as a class.

"My mom, dad and I sat reading the thank-you notes from each of the children over dinner the following night. It made me so proud of my dad.

"I have no idea why my father was out buying bananas in the middle of the day. I presume he found a good deal — he was a savvy shopper — and decided that his daughter and her classmates would enjoy a healthy snack. This small, unexpected moment is one of many I have with Charlie Craft.

"From our Saturdays as a family when he would bring my mom flowers unfailingly, or bake fresh bread and deliver it to friends as a surprise gift, he was always looking for small ways to brighten the lives of those around him, especially his family.

"I am grateful to have had an example such as my father of how to live a generous life."

By son Eric Nash

"My father devoured the written word like bread. He loved books. When I was a kid, he would take me on trips to the old Champaign Public Library across from West Side Park. It was such a warm and cozy place overflowing with endless stacks of books — a real adventure for a kid.

"My dad acted as a tour guide, leading me into a world of imagination and ideas as we roamed the aisles looking for new and interesting titles. We'd leave with a big pile of books and go home and devour them together.

"On trips to Chicago, he would take me to Kroch and Brentano's, the huge wonderland of a bookstore on Wabash Avenue. I'd make a beeline for the art section while he went for science fiction. I'd always get to choose one new book to buy. I would later return that generosity by getting him a gift certificate to a bookstore every Christmas and birthday.

"I'm indebted to him for showing me that curiosity and knowledge is fun. We had many great times together but so much of my trajectory in life was inspired by those early trips to the library and bookstores where through the gift of books he opened up my young mind."

By daughter Sue Fustin

"My mom was an amazing person. She raised six kids basically on her own because my father and she were divorced when I was only 2.

"I am the youngest of six. Her parents were supportive and of course very instrumental in our family as well.

"We often wondered: How did she teach the six of us to be the people we are today? What was the trick? She instilled kindness, respect, a good work ethic, diligence and a joy for living. She taught us to respect everyone, even if they don't respect you.

"Be kind. Listen. If you can, do it yourself, but don't be afraid to ask for help. You are not an island so ask for that help. Laugh often. Don't take yourself too seriously.

"I asked Mom once years ago: 'How do you survive without your mom?' As I recall, she said, 'One day at a time, you just live on. You pray often and have a joyful spirit.'"

By daughters Monica Carico and Melanie Drudge

"They say the 'firsts' are the hardest. And we can agree. Your birthday followed by Father's Day and now coming into the week of Thanksgiving and month of Christmas. Not sure how we'll get through.

"Our dad was a hard-working, fun-loving guy. He spent the majority of his career at CIPS/Ameren and loved hunting, fishing, gardening, anything outdoors. He loved his slow country cruises 'checking the scenery,' crosswords, fish fries and a good cold beer.

"Most of all, he loved his wife, girls and grandkids. He followed us all through one sport to another, lots of activities year after year.

"We miss you, Dad, and will love you always."

By brother Earl Washington

"My big brother, Eugene, was the typical unsung hero. He was always doing for others and never asking for anything in return.

"We both loved planes and anything to do with flying. Both of us loved to see any type of aircraft take off, and the bigger, the better. Since my brother did so much and wanted so little, I was thrilled to have the opportunity in 2009 to treat him to a VIP viewing of a space shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center.

"The highlight of the trip was the countdown to, and the launching of, the Shuttle Atlantis. Just today, I looked at the video we made. Neither of us is in the video; it only includes the launching of that powerful spacecraft. But in the audio, among the ooohs, aaahs and applause of the spectators, my brother's voice stands out — 'heey heey, woo-hoo.' It thrilled me to see him so elated.

"But thinking back, the biggest thrill for me was spending quality time with my altruistic big brother."

By best friend Jennifer Birkey

"When my boys were small, Connie watched them for me when I needed to be away. When I would return to pick them up, they would tell me that they wanted to stay with her longer. Though that would tug at my heart, I knew how much fun they had found her to be. Their wish to be with her was a picture of how all who were a part of Connie's world felt.

"In past visits to my son in San Diego, I had fallen in love with many spots and I told Connie I'd love to go there as couples and show her the places I had enjoyed so much. We got that opportunity last February, and it turned out to be a week I will always cherish.

"On one occasion, we'd strolled out on the pier at Pacific Beach and encountered a gentleman with a parrot on his shoulder. Before I knew what was happening, Connie was conversing with the man and had the parrot on her arm. She had made another friend.

"Connie was relationship-driven and she impacted so many. She lived life to the fullest, and had fun doing it."

By daughter Kim Allen

"My mom poured her heart and soul into coaching at the EI Bowling Alley for many years. She spent her Saturdays in the winter teaching many local kids, including my twin brother and I, how to bowl.

"When I was old enough to bowl in the women's league, my mom and I got to share our passion together and be on the same team. Mom was a very good bowler, and was eventually inducted into the Champaign County Bowling Hall of Fame in 1992. My favorite bowling memory with my mom was winning the Match Game Doubles tournament in 1988. It was a scratch tournament and we started the series with both of our first games being over 200. For our second game, we both bowled over 200 again.

"Halfway through our third and last game, we were both on schedule to bowl another 200. Being the amateur I was, I became so nervous, I could hardly bowl. Needless to say, I choked and only bowled a 180 that third game but Mom remained the calm, veteran bowler that she was, and bowled another 200-plus. I was always so proud to be my mom's bowling partner."

By brother Bob Jayne

"We went hunting a lot when we were young. One time, we were shooting hedge apples out of the trees, just practicing, and we wanted to make a movie.

"Rick had the gun and we wanted to make it look like he shot a rabbit. So my uncle took a dead rabbit out of his coat and threw it in front of Rick to make it look like Rick shot it. It actually looked pretty real.

"I remember the look on Rick's face. Priceless."

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jbarn3871 wrote on November 20, 2017 at 9:11 am

These stories are fantastic. What a great reminder that these aren't just names in the paper.