Retiring executive sports editor FRED KRONER has seen a lot in his 34 years at The News-Gazette. Each Sunday until his last day, he’ll share his most memorable stories:
Can I say up front I think this is a bad idea? I don’t like it.
The original intent was for my memories to be about places, games and people I’ve seen or dealt with over the decades. I’m sure there’s more than enough to fill the remaining Sundays before the countdown ends.
So what happened this week? I decided to listen to the masses (full disclosure, two loyal readers) who made similar email requests.
"We’ve read your stories for years," one woman wrote, "but we don’t know much about you. Can you write about yourself?"
Here’s the starting point: I think this is a bad idea, but I am overruled (2 to 1).
I’ll set the rules. It has to be a Q-and-A with me asking and answering the questions. That way, there won’t be any "no comments."
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I have a habit which costs me $1 a day (and $2 on Sundays). I buy a competing newspaper, not so much to scan the sports news but because my own newspaper doesn’t publish my favorite comic strip. I am a huge fan of the Lockhorns and can’t go a day without reading it.
Is there anything about you beyond your love affair with the Lockhorns that might surprise people?
I’ve written hundreds of poems; around a thousand, I am sure. While in college, I self-published a paperback booklet of some of the best at that time. Thankfully, virtually all of those booklets have been lost, destroyed or misplaced. It’s still a hobby I’m likely to continue for years.
Who is your favorite author?
After my fellow News-Gazette sportswriters, who are all equally talented and dedicated, the person whose work I most enjoy reading is Mitch Albom. My two favorite books of his are "Tuesdays with Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." I couldn’t put them down.
What is your history with four-color pens?
From early in my sportswriting career, it seemed like the logical way to differentiate parts of a game. For example, I keep full box scores for every basketball game I cover, using a different color each quarter. That way, I can tell at a glance what happened in each quarter. There is no rhyme or reason to which color I use first. However, I will never use blue and black in consecutive quarters (too hard to tell apart), and I will always use either blue or black for the fourth quarter. One Christmas, three different people gave me four-color pens. In all, I received 16 that year.
What can you tell us about your wife, Emily?
It’s almost like I was a part of her family from the day I was born. Her grandfather delivered me at a hospital which is now a grocery store (among other things) and that is the former Burnham City Hospital, in Champaign. I have a brick from the building. Emily was my Dream Girl in high school, though we never dated. We were actually classmates from kindergarten through graduation. We started college in different states, lived miles apart while raising children and didn’t communicate for years. She returned for a 1998 class reunion. The rest is, well, history. Good history.
Who is your best friend?
I have many friends, but the best has to be the one I started hanging out with from the time our mothers shared taking us to our half-day kindergarten classes in Mahomet during an era there was no bus service for those of us who lived in the country. Rick Durst, unfortunately, passed away 20 years ago, but my friendship with him is an example that I’m not a prejudiced person. I liked him even though he was a Cardinals fan and refused to be converted.
So, how did you become a Cubs fan?
Really, it was the only choice. I grew up on a farm, and my biggest summer chore was walking beans. I was always accompanied by a jug of ice water and a transistor radio hooked to my belt. I got tired of hearing the same songs seven times in a day, so I tuned into ball games. This was before the era of sports-talk radio and during a time when the Cubs played all 81 of their home games during the day, when I was out in the fields. There were other choices on weekends, but Monday through Friday, it was Chicago Cubs baseball on WGN-720 AM with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau, or it was nothing. It’s now 52 years that I’ve followed the North Siders.
Are you a collector?
I have a few press passes from different years and various locations where I’ve been, but the one collection I’m most proud of has nothing to do with sports. I own every "Perry Mason" book ever written by Erle Stanley Gardner as well as most books he authored under his pen name, A.A. Fair. I’ve read every book multiple times and plan to go through the entire collection again during retirement.
What is the one most memorable story you’ve written?
Sorry to disappoint the sporting types, but it has nothing to do with an athletic event. Some background is required first. I was introduced to a Mahomet couple, Shelby and Tim Fawver, by a mutual friend. They had a daughter, Megan Lee Fawver, who was born with a heart defect and underwent extensive surgery 60 hours after birth. She’d undergone multiple operations by the time she was 2 years old.
The parents didn’t know how long she’d live and wanted to have a written history of her battles, triumphs and the obstacles she’d endured. They didn’t have a writing background and asked me to do them the favor of chronicling the story. I agreed on the condition that I would have total access. In other words, they had to contact the various doctors and give permission for them to talk openly with me.
I did interviews over many, many months and finished the story on Aug. 3, 1985. The following evening, my mother called to say at a routine doctor’s checkup she’d been to that day, a test had been taken and doctors advised her to spend the weekend in the hospital. I went for a visit on Saturday, Aug. 5, 1985, taking the completed manuscript, which at that point I had not yet turned over to the Fawvers.
She read every word and, of course, told me it was "wonderful."
My mother died on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 1985 from breast cancer. That was the last story of mine she’d read.
Megan Lee Fawver became an Illinois State Scholar who graduated from high school as a high honors student. She passed away in September 2004 at age 19 in her first semester as a Parkland College student.
What would you order for your last meal?
Peel-and-eat shrimp with extra sauce, snow peas, corn on the cob, my wife’s banana creme pie and — if it were truly my last meal — a regular Dr. Pepper instead of a diet one. Somehow, I’d have to work a serving of stuffing into the meal, too.
Why did you pick August as your retirement date?
The specific date was selected so that I could guarantee the last event I covered was a championship game. I will be at the finals of the Eastern Illinois Baseball League Tournament on Aug. 10. As for this year as opposed to any other year, several factors came into play. One is the desire to have more time to spend with the grandchildren, who live out of state. Another reason stems from seeing so many people, in various occupations, stay well past their prime and the memory of them is how much they’ve slipped as opposed to the good things they’d done for years. I wanted to step aside knowing I can still do the job instead of hanging on while people think I should have left years ago.