Rozner: Bob Frisk was as grand as they come

  • Bob Frisk was a mentor to many and a friend to all. The former sports editor and columnist of The Daily Herald died Saturday. He was 83.

    Bob Frisk was a mentor to many and a friend to all. The former sports editor and columnist of The Daily Herald died Saturday. He was 83. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 5/16/2020 7:29 PM

It was about 10 years ago that I was at dinner with Bob Frisk.

With us were mostly former coaches, nearly all of them Hall of Famers in their own regard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It was not long after Frisk had retired from the Daily Herald, and when I suggested the Illinois High School Association ought to put something in Frisk's name -- like the state basketball, softball or track finals -- one of them chuckled.

Dumb idea, said a coach. Not big enough. There's nothing big enough.

That's how important Frisk was to Illinois high school sports. There's nothing big enough.

Bob Frisk died Saturday at the age of 83, spending his final days in hospice care after saying goodbye to his family.

During the 36 years I knew him, it was a short list of things that Frisk truly cared about. His family, friends and high school sports dominated that list.

Like the best men of his generation, Frisk was devoted to his wife. He never entirely got over her death 28 years ago, though he lived to brag about his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. They are what kept him moving forward, albeit slowly and at times over the years more reluctantly.

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We had long conversations about how to survive those difficult and lonely nights. Sleepless and endless, often it involved watching old movies or documentaries.

He adored Gene Hackman, a downstate guy, and especially in "Hoosiers."

Mostly, he passed the time since retiring 11 years ago -- after 50 years as the shepherd of Daily Herald high school sports coverage -- by attending high school events.

He was like Norm in "Cheers" when he showed up at a local gym or on the sideline, everyone wanting a piece of Bob, wanting to know how he was and what he was doing.

He took long walks and enjoyed being outside, and in our last conversation he asked that I soak a dirt mound in his front yard, the result of some torn up sod and a plumbing fix.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Makes me laugh when I think about it now, as if he didn't have more important things to worry about at that moment, not long before he was wheeled into surgery.

But it is a fitting metaphor when you consider all he did to grow prep sports, and especially our coverage at the Daily Herald.

He liked college sports, the Olympics and some pro events -- especially the Masters -- but had a low tolerance for the disrespectful nature of today's sports and the way the games were being artificially altered.

Bob was self-effacing in his reluctance to embrace technology or the impersonal nature of today's communication. He had little desire for the latest innovation.

It's why he liked so very much Augusta National, and its tradition unlike any other.

To the very end of his 50 years, he had a typewriter at his Daily Herald desk that he employed to fill out requests for the photo department -- or leave encouraging notes for colleagues.

About as sweet a man as you could ever meet, he was tougher than he looked, willing when necessary to move on from those who couldn't get out of their own way.

He could not abide hypocrisy, especially from those who worked for him, and did not consider journalism the vitriol of rip-and-slash writers with personal vendettas, who served merely to read their own words and feed their own egos.

Bob believed it was the reader -- not the writer -- who mattered most.

Above all, he would teach and praise, and as sports editor he gave this very young reporter his first beat in the spring of 1985, high school softball, at a particularly rough time in my life.

It was the best possible distraction and a great learning experience as Bob's beloved Prospect High School, led by Hall of Fame coach Bob Genzen and superstar pitcher Laura Stock, went downstate.

In building a terrific sports department, Bob hired, mentored or befriended so many great journalists who remained true to this newspaper and the profession, like Bruce Miles, Scot Gregor, Bob LeGere, Mark Ruda, Tim Sassone, Mike Imrem, Mike Spellman, Mike McGraw, Keith Reinhard, Jeff Nordlund, Kent McDill, John Leusch, Joe Aguilar, Marty Stengle, Aaron Gabriel, Marty Maciaszek, Kevin Schmit, Orrin Schwarz, John Lemon, Jerry Fitzpatrick, Dave Oberhelman, Don Friske, Tom Prentiss, Bill Gowen, John Radtke, Jim Cook and Tom Quinlan.

It would be selfish now to thank Bob again for hiring me in 1984, the day after the Cubs were eliminated by San Diego, Frisk waiting until after the playoffs and knowing I needed to keep vending to make a few extra dollars.

Selfish because it's not about me or any of the names listed above. His career was so large and extended so far, and he meant so much to so many.

We all owe him a debt for the way in which he argued for integrity from, and respect for, coaches and parents, and the way in which he applauded effort and decency in sports.

He believed athletics were good for children, that the best lessons learned from competition can only help as children grow up and move into the workforce, getting married and raising their own kids.

If we don't expect better from our coaches, parents and athletes, Bob would ask, wouldn't we then deserve exactly what we get from them?

I will miss the conversations, miss the occasional breakfast, miss Bob's warm and genuine smile that made you feel like it would all be OK, but again it feels selfish to talk now about what any single one of us got from him.

And we can pay tribute until the cows come home, but to borrow from one of his friends, there's nothing big enough.

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