The World’s Greatest Sports Fan!

[Photo by Steve Hansen, an old college buddy at the ‘U,’ taken c. 1970, when I was stationed in Okinawa defending our country.]

Richard George Thompson, Mom’s older brother by two years, a/k/a, Uncle Dick, Dickie T, “T,” and most affectionately, “Deek,” was most noted for his oft-quoted slogan, “Sports, you know!”  Born on November 22 (yes, the Kennedy assassination date), 1921, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Dick became a Minnesotan early in life and thereafter cherished it as his home state.  In fact, the team from his birthplace state was never just the Badgers – but always the “Damn Badgers!”  We lost Dick in 1989 (yes, the supervisor got to know him the last two years of his life), but his memory, and legacy, linger on!

We believe this to be Worthington, Minnesota, where the family moved from Eau Claire.  Dick is sitting in the middle of the second wagon, his sister, Natalia (a/k/a, my Mom), is sitting to his right.  Dick battled several serious illnesses as an infant, and probably as a result of that he would have been considered a special needs child today.

[Mom and Dick, c. 1925.]

[Every reason to suspect this was the family house @ 713 Humiston Avenue in Worthington.]

[Mom and Dick again.  Mom was a tomboy, and with the last name of Thompson, was known as “Tommy” her whole life.  As a sports fan like her older brother, they played ball together.]

[Dick as a fine young buck.]

We’re reaching into his “Uncle” Dick years, so it’s time to resume our story.  Here he’s with Gretch and me at an Alex football game at the old Central High School field (where the library now is), c. 1955.  Dick did not graduate from high school – he had to make up a class in the summer after his senior year.  The family was living in Minneapolis then, and he would ride the city bus to the end of the line every day and return home when he thought “school” would be over.  He wasn’t interested in going to school anymore (but as he always noted with pride, he got A+’s in spelling and loved it when he would stump us at it).  Well, he was found out by his older sister, Louise, who told him then he’d better go out and find a job and not return home until he had one.  He came home with a job as a bicycle/walking telegram deliverer for Western Union.  It was the only job he ever had.

[With Cousin Kathy and me somewhere on the streets of SE Minneapolis, c. 1958?]

And this is what made Uncle Dick special to the kids of my generation – he played ball with us!  When we were growing up in Victoria Heights, Dick would often take a Greyhound Bus up from the Cities on weekends.  He was such a regular that the bus would stop and let him off on Highway 52 (now 27), right at the entry to the Heights (and about two miles from its scheduled stop in town).  And then, and on his vacations, he would play ball, whatever the season was, with we kids.  He knew everybody in the Heights, and all knew him.  And at the end of the game, like St. Patrick leading (or was it driving?) the snakes out of Ireland, his whole entourage would follow him to Lilac Lodge on Lake Victoria (the only “convenience” store within walking distance) for Pepsi’s and Nut Goodies.  Pepsi was his lifelong beverage of choice.

[516 University Avenue, SE, Minneapolis, 2nd floor on the right, where he lived for many years with his mother, our Grandma Ragna Thompson.  Years later we learned Alexandria friend, Beth McKay Teeuwen’s son, also once lived there.  Max and Maude’s grocery store was kitty-korner across the street – and that’s where we would go to get goodies, dodging diesel-spewing city buses to cross busy University Avenue.]

[With Grandma Thompson]

[Same chair, black & white.]

[With me as I approach, or am in, those awkward and uncomfortable teenage years which continued until I was 43.]

[A mighty swing and a miss in our backyard in Victoria Heights.  He was a switch-hitter.  The coffee stain on the photo comes at no extra charge.]

[In our Victoria Heights living room, probably at Christmas, early 60’s.  You may recognize the view up the hill to the replica-Runestone park.]

[The above is at his sister Louise’s home in Delaware; the photo below is at his niece and nephew’s (my sister-in-law, Janet, and brother Chris) in Alexandria, Virginia, c. 1980?]

[He fancied himself quite the pool player, which unfortunately often led to a lightening of his wallet.]

[Note from Mom.]

[With his sister, Louise, who was a Delaware state senator.]

[Acting the great uncle with Brother Chris’s son, Nich.]

[Looking very GQ at the folk’s house on Beechwood Circle in Arlington, Virginia.  I don’t recall the event, but it probably wasn’t a run to Baskin-Robbins.]

Holidays with Richard:

[A birthday in Arlington with Great Aunt Mabel.]

[Mom (and Dad) were dual caregivers during the time Mabel and Dick both lived with them.]

[The plan at every holiday involving gift giving was to see if we could “bury” Dick in his chair!  😉 ]

[And, of course, the goal of his nephews was always to make him laugh.  He had a George W. Bush up and down shoulder movement with his laughter – a cryptic “reh-eh-eh!”  We still use his laugh to this day – and spell it out in correspondence as “reh-eh-eh!”  In his blunt, what’s-the-matter-with-that attitude, he always referred to me as his “favorite nephew,” even in the presence of all his other nephews.  I was his favorite nephew because I was his first nephew.]

[How could you have more fun than an Uncle Dick birthday party?]

[One candle?]

[Why yes, this is my football field birthday cake as I wear my Chicago Bears hat!]

[Arlington at Christmas, with Brother Chris’s feet (upholding the Obert family tradition of fine napping).  In the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was still living in Minneapolis, I would drive Dick out East for the holiday family get-togethers.  Once I moved to D.C., Dick would take the train when he could – he would never fly.]

[Christmas, 1973, in Arlington – a Chicago Blackhawks jersey.]

[We were never sure if he liked gag gifts – but we sure loved giving them to him!  😉 ]

[1974, giving his universal “A-OK” or “hi” sign.]

[An actual winter coat.]

[Christmas, 1975 – we “buried” him that year!]

[And every year, for Christmas dinner, it was his job to light the last candle on the tree – Cam and Gretch enjoying it mightily.]

[We “buried” him again in ’79.]

[He was not good at hiding disappointment.]

[Probably never worn again.  You just can’t replace a Gopher stocking cap!!]

It’s probably time for the next step in the story.  Dick’s mom, Grandma Ragna, died in 1963.  Dick had lived with her his entire life, and now it was time for his sisters, Mom and Louise in Delaware, to decide what’s next?  Dick was too young to retire and come live with them.  Dick would not want to leave his beloved Minnesota.  So for the first time in his life he would live on his own.  He moved into an old hotel (the Francis Drake, and later the Hampshire Arms, I believe that’s the order?) in downtown Minneapolis from which he could walk to work.  He did fine.  He had to eat out for every meal, of course, but he kept a stash of Pepsi’s in his bathtub in cold water and a good supply of green olives (with pits). 

How he did fine was often the subject of wonder – as he was such a creature of habit.  His mother once told him he “had a hard foot to fit.”  Thus, his shoe of choice through his entire adult life was the penny loafer, possibly the most uncomfortable shoe someone who walked for a living could wear.  I have no idea how his feet survived Minnesota winters.  Plus, as a “sports fan,” his jacket of choice was your basic hero jacket – I’m not sure to what degree below zero he would continue to wear those things.  Winter in Minneapolis in penny loafers, a hero jacket, gloves, and a stocking cap, while carrying a bulky transistor radio under one arm!  Uffda!  It was quite likely that this outfit, and his longevity in his field, made him a well-known character in the downtown of a major city.  He was covered in Mpls magazine:

Some may read the article and think Dick had written his own pink slip.  But, they would be wrong.  🙂  Dick had a way with people, women particularly, that one just had to step back and doff one’s hat.  We would marvel at his ability to sit in a room full of people and be constantly catered to by all the ladies, from teenagers to octogenarians! “Dick, can I get you anything?”  “How about another Pepsi?”  “Do you want your feet rubbed?”  And he would just sit back and beam!  Of course, he was very polite and gave proper thank you’s.  But we always thought if we had ever considered such requests, the response would have been, “Are your legs broken?”  And Western Union, for all its corporate bigness, treated Dick in the same way – they looked after him.  For all those years, he would sometimes just disappear in the middle of the day to go to a Gopher baseball game.  The Gophers trumped all!!  And when he retired, we could not believe his retirement pension and health plans, not that he didn’t deserve it – the guy walked and biked thousands and thousands of miles around Minneapolis in his 35 years there.

On to the gist of the story.  Sports were Dick’s life – he had no other interests or hobbies in life.  Unless Pepsi is a hobby.  Oh, he did like to go for rides (he never had a driver’s license himself) – “Rides, you know” – for he did enjoy seeing other places, mostly if they involved sports!  So, in our travels, we always had to stop to see any college or university that had sports teams with which Dick was familiar – Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame, the Horseshoe at Ohio State . . . And from the time he was a tot, he had his favorite teams.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers in baseball; the Chicago Bears in football; the Lakers (wherever they were) in basketball; the Chicago Blackhawks in hockey; and, of course, the Gophers in all sports.  And despite being a proud Minnesotan, he never adopted the Twins or the Vikings or the North Stars – for they were all Johnny-come-latelies!  In fact he hated them!

As a kid, I was also a fan of all of Dick’s teams.  He was my mentor!  But I probably broke his heart when I switched allegiances to all the Minnesota pro teams, such as they are.  Among my fondest memories growing up in the Heights were sitting on our front steps on a summer evening with Uncle Dick listening to the Cardinals on the radio – Harry Caray on KMOX, hoping for someone to “hit one into the pavilion.”  Dick didn’t watch TV much in those days – there wasn’t wall-to-wall sports like we have today.  He would sit in his bedroom at night, on 516 University Avenue, SE, spinning his radio dial until he found a good game, and he would keep score – whether baseball or basketball.  And, of course, he would go to games at the ‘U’ – it was a 14 block walk (but he was a professional walker) to see basketball games at Williams Arena, football games at Memorial Stadium, and baseball games at Siebert Field.  Because the baseball games produced intimate crowds, Dick was a known quantity there – when he arrived, he would see legendary coach (Gophers were national champs in ’56, ’60, ’64, and runner-up in ’68), Dick Siebert, on the field and yell out, “Hi, Chief!”  And Siebert would boom back, “Hello, Dick!”  And Dick would, “Reh-eh-eh!”

I went to games with Dick.  Whatta rush for a small town kid.  Mom and Dad would take me to the Depot (before it was a restaurant), put me on the train, and Grandma and Uncle Dick would meet me in Minneapolis.  For football games, Dick and I would walk to Dinkytown, have a hamburger and a malt at Bridgeman’s (Dick probably had a Pepsi, and then Bridgeman’s famous dessert, the Triple Treat – 3 flavors of ice cream, 3 flavors of “goop,” nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry – a gourmand’s delight!), and then head to the stadium.  I saw the Sandy Stephens-led Gophers beat No. 1-ranked Michigan – Sandy had a 61-yard touchdown run in that game.  Dick and I sat in the bleachers at the open end of the stadium for that game.  Later I saw Sandy’s younger brother Ray throw a pass about 80 yards – it wasn’t completed by the “Ohhhhhh” from the crowd that followed the ball’s lengthy flight was impressive!  And later yet, when I was going to the ‘U,’ I saw O.J. Simpson rush for over 200 yards against our stalwarts even though field maintenance staff had let the grass grow to U.S. Open rough length in an effort to slow him down.  That Gopher team had a good passing attack and made it a close game.

That first visit to Williams Arena was awesome for a kid.  For whatever reason (a creature of habit), Dick always sat in the second deck, on the North end, halfway up behind the railing over the entry.  The first time he took me up there, I thought we were watching a basketball game from the top of the Empire State Building!  But I saw Ohio State with Jerry Lucas – the Gophers were very good then too.  The game was scorless for several minutes before Lucas two-hand slam dunked an offensive rebound – you could feel the air get sucked out of the building.  I saw Purdue with Rick Mount.  Mount said on his first visit to the arena that it looked like a barn – he may have coined the now ever popular term for Willliams Arena, “The Barn.”  That game opened with Mount doing a one-legged 90-degree spin from about 30-feet out off the top of the key and firing a jumper – swish, game over.  I saw Indiana with Jimmy Rayl – during warm-ups, Rayl would just walk a circle around what would later become a 3-point arc, swishing jumper after jumper.  For the Gophers, Lou Hudson, Archie Clark, Don Yates were the team’s first significant black recruits.  I remember Lou playing several games with a cast on his shooting hand and still scoring over 20 points a game.  That team also featured 6’6″ Ray Cronk from Bemidji – I remember him having to wear a mask to protect a broken nose and throwing down two-handed tomahawk dunks in warm-ups.  And through all the games, Dick would rattle a cow bell for every Gopher score.  Later, while living with Mom, he would ring the cow bell from his bedroom watching games on TV.  Mom hid those cow bells (he had two) – and I don’t know if we ever found them again.  They belong in the Basketball Hall of Fame!

Dick was in 7th Heaven when I moved to the Cities to attend the ‘U.”  He was practically a dormie with all the rest of us.  He was adopted by the dorm guys – and he adopted them.  He would go over for visits even if I wasn’t there.  He here is with Hans, from So. St. Paul, at a Gopher football game (I think in ’74 after I got out of the service).  Hans took all the black & white photos herein.

[Libby (future wife) and Hans visiting us in Alex in ’66.]

[Hans arriving at said game.]

[The “OK” sign.]

[From Wichita, Kansas, Basketball Dan.]

[THE FAN!]

[With his friend, Burton “Burt” Schwartz, at a Gopher football game.  Burt also worked for Western Union – as a driver messenger.  Thus, Burt was Dick’s wheels – and Burt took him to such places as Eau Claire and Worthington to visit his old homesteads.

[Cam went to Worthington two years ago and took this photo of 713 Humiston.  I have yet to ever visit Worthington – but it’s on the Bucket List.]

Red and black, red and black; Rickety-rack, rickety-rack; Rickety-rye, rickety-rye; Worthington, Worthington, Worthington High!

[Gretch and Cam at 516 University – December 2006 and Cam’s (“I hate winter”) wearing a t-shirt.]

[Christmas ’74 – “T” working on his patented two-hand set at Donaldson Run Park in Arlington!]

[Did body English do it?]

[Also a day of tennis with Roy Gorena.]

[After such a workout . . .]

[We called this “Alfredding” . . .]

[Because it made him look like Afred Hitchcock.  😉 ]

[When awake 😉 , Dick enjoyed family slide shows – here in my Arlington apartment, known to Basketball Dan as Beautiful Lee Gardens.]

[And playing Fantan (some call it 7-Up) – here with his niece Karen (a/k/a, Mrs. Cam).]

[And with Mom and Dad and Grandma Obert.  And how do you play Fantan, Deek?  You put out 7’s and you build.  And if you don’t have a play, you throw in a penny.  First one to play all his/her cards, wins!]

[Playing lawn darts with Little Mayo Johnson in 1972 – I believe on the Johnson Mill Lake property in Alex.]

[And visiting “the boys” Stevens Avenue apartment in 1972.]

[With Gretch somewhere in ’74 – the ladies’ room?]

[Fishing with Dad and me in 1974 – well, “ride, you know.”]

[And with the whole fam damily at Anita Stone’s on Lake Geneva in ’75.]

[Then he had his next life changing episode – a mild heart attack (if there is such a thing).  I was living in D.C. then, so his immediate family oversight was from Cam and Uncle Tom.  I drove to Minneapolis to retire him from Western Union and to bring him back to D.C. to live with Mom and Dad.  He was happy to be living with family again – not happy to be leaving Minnesota.  Note the “Man About Town” on his whiteboard!  🙂 ]

[Cam checking up on him in the hospital – Dick giving the “OK.”]

[Before we left Minnesota, Dick had to have a final haircut from his barber of forever, S. Pat Pettis on 4th Avenue, S.E.  “Hello, Pat!”  “Hello, Richard!”  Pat fished Lake Osakis.]

[Mayo was there, too.  I think even all the college guys knew about Dick’s barber.]

[“Dick, did you tip Pat?”  I DON’T TIP!  Of course loud enough for Pat to hear.  That’s the last time they saw each other.]

[Then we had a final meal at Mayo’s.]

[I was able to pack all of Dick’s lifelong belongings into my 1974 Toyota Corolla.]

[I’m not sure what they’re looking at here . . .]

[Possibly statistics for an early Fantasy Baseball League?]

[Of course, moving to D.C. meant giving up his up close and personal contact with his beloved Gophers.  Photo by Hans, with Basketball Dan, c. 1970.]

[Living in Washington meant Dick had to adopt a new team to follow for live performances.  And that was our Department of Labor Mavericks slow-pitch softball team.  For 11 years, I’d pick him up for all our games.  He became our lead cheerleader . . . and critic, and developed a whole new group of Uncle Dick fans!  😉 ]

[Another championship in 1986.  Dick guards the trophies in the front row.]

[Celebrating with his Pepsi.]

[Hans photoshopped an older B’ball Dan onto Dick!  😉 ]

Dad died in ’87 and Mom moved back to Minnesota then.  Dick was happy to be home, but we could only see him then when we came back to Alex on vacation.  We came home when he died, and had great fun reliving his life.  We laughed as we found the sticky coins in his dresser drawers and the broken olive jars on his closet floor.  Uffda! 

[Uncle Dick, you were one of a kind!]

The following video is a Dick photo montage with the audio from The Harland (Angen) and Jerry (Van Kempen) Show on KXRA shortly after Dick died.  The “boys” also looked after Dick when he moved back to Alex with Mom – they would pick him regularly for afternoons of pool playing at the Legion:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9G5LPkZQlo

That was great!!!   I loved Dick, and haven’t thought about him in a long time.  What a guy!  I remember he stayed overnight at our house on Bryant street – not sure why he was there overnight.  But he had loud nightmares during the night.  And every time we went to his apartment downtown he had cold water in the tub, with Pepsi, I think, being cooled.  Lots of memories!  ~  Little Mayo

Tom, you forgot to put Tissue Alert in the subject box!! What a wonderful tribute!!   Thanks for the memories.  ~ Love, The HQ

World’s Greatest Sports Fan, photo by Hans.

Addendum (and I encourage these from folks with specific memories of Dick):

Meed,
You did an admirable job!!   With so many potential highlights, it’s inevitable that some would be missed:  the Hampshire Arms, with the silverware acting as “T’s” TV antenna;  “And you call yourself a fan ?!?!?” [Dick’s response anytime one didn’t know some obscure sports fact, such as the school nickname for East Dubuque Polytechnic];  and the most regrettable absence of cell-phone video of “T” tipping over backwards in the director’s chair on Como Ave [Basketball Dan’s apartment] after a Gopher game (and shortly before uttering the tactful line, “You call that a girlfriend?”) [Editor’s note:  This is an all-timer, and I was thinking about it as I wrote this – but then forgot.  It happens.  Dick never sat down in a chair so much as he fell into it.  That method doesn’t work well with a director’s chair.  So, when Dick did it, it was a slow-motion tip over with him ending up on his back, still seated, looking up at the ceiling, with his legs in the air.  We thought we were going to have to “paddle” Dan, he was laughing so hard] …  Similarly, running into “T” shrieking as he rushed out of our 18th Ave apt. having walked in on Hans and Libby in bed on an early Sat morning…and a multitude of others.  ~  Basketball Dan

[Addendum to the addendum:  Dick’s method of “entering” a chair was a labor saving device.  This “device” took form in other venues as well.  Once at a Mavericks’ softball game, he was sitting in the stands (?) and had to walk down a couple of steps at the end of the game.  The stair railing only extended down as far the 3rd step up.  When Dick reached the 2nd step from the bottom he reasoned he could save “one step” by hanging a right from two steps up.  Now Dick was in his later years then, so I could see disaster coming.  First I called out, “DON’T,” then I rushed to catch him – but it was like trying to catch a bag of wet cement!  I couldn’t prevent him from hitting the ground, but at least I saved him some bruises – except to his ego.

He was always single, of course, but he had an eye.  His comment about any woman he found attractive was always, “Mmmmm, boy, Almond Joy!”  😉 ]

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2 Responses to The World’s Greatest Sports Fan!

  1. Wow! I think of Dick often. He also made me a life long Cardinal and Harry Carey fan. I must have missed the Stevens Ave pics cuz I was preoccupied with Lynne!
    — Brad Anderson AKA “Art”

  2. Betsy Greer says:

    I was a johnny-come-lately to the Obert family. The kids had all left the roost, but Dick was a family fixture. I do remember John and Tommy care-taking for both Mabel and Dick, and then Dick alone. What I remember most was the loving care that both gave Dick through the 1980s — despite the exasperation he caused. The piece brought back memories. Thanks. Betsy Greer

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