A chapter was closed Thursday – nearly eight months to the day after George was killed in his cycling accident – when the District Attorney called my Dad and sister-in-law to announce that the driver of the car accepted a plea bargain. She will plead guilty and will
participate in a 30 day alternative work program (in lieu of jail time served). She must also perform 200 community hours, serve 3 years probation and pay restitution fees. I’m still waiting to see all of the final details of the sentencing but at this point its just a formality. There will be no trial nor any final/formal sentencing date when we would see the driver – and she would have to face the family whose lives she forever changed on May 5, 2015.
Chip Kelly to USC? I guess it could happen. Chip seems like he’d hate LA and all expectations that would come from Trojans boosters. Word out of Eugene was that this was the part of the job he disliked most. He was able to get away with keeping (most) boosters at arm’s length because of his success. Would USC’s boosters be as forgiving and accommodating? I don’t know.
But I could also see the appeal to the USC job if the Eagles season collapses. Chip could be seen as a savior of one of the greatest football programs in the country can have a chance to pull a Nick Saban (leave the NFL for a CFB powerhouse). As a Duck I’d absolutely hate it – but any other college football fan would love it. Imagine what Chip could do with the level of recruits that gravitate to USC?? Yikes.
This week the sports media world has been abuzz about an atrocious act of violence during a San Antonio high school football game when two players blindsided an official. While the investigation into that incident continues, and we collectively shake our heads about the lack of sportsmanship displayed, it’s important to remember that there are lots of kids out there demonstrating sportsmanship.
This video is a couple years old now, but I don’t think the story ever gets old. Every time I watch it I get tears in my eyes – realizing there are good people (and teens) out there looking out for our developmentally disabled kids.
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As we go through life, we have the opportunity to meet, interact, work and in some cases live with an amazing variety of people. Many – if not most – fade from your memory, into mental obscurity, unless there is an event or reminder that brings their memory back.
But there is that unique minority who you remember no matter how much time passes, or how long they were directly in your life.
Last week I was saddened to learn that my old college roommate Aida passed away. She was way too young and it’s another terrible reminder about the ravaging impact mental illness can have on a person.
I first met Aida in Clark Hall – the co-ed dorm I lived during my junior year at University of Oregon. Originally from the tiny Eastern Oregon town of Burns, Aida was paired with Anna, another freshman who hailed from Wisconsin. Pretty much instantly the legend of Aida and Anna was born. I honestly don’t know where to begin in trying to describe them. They were two fun and funny girls who weren’t afraid of pulling pranks or pushing the envelope. So naturally I got along famously with both of them.
As that school year wound down and we all were trying to decide where to live, we agreed on a still somewhat unconventional idea in 1986 – we would share an apartment and be roommates.
Aida paid her own way through college (and eventually through law school as well). She did it the hard way – working for the Forestry Service fighting fires during the summer. Before my senior year I found myself without a job after unexpectedly getting laid off from a landscaping job. I remember calling Aida and lamenting my position and she matter-of-factly told me “Dave, it doesn’t matter what kind of job you get, just do whatever it takes to earn some money. Pump gas if that’s what it takes.” A week later I did just that – I spent the final 7 weeks of summer working at a Union 76 station in Portland pumping gas.
My Senior year was memorable in so many ways. I’ve been asked by friends to pick my favorite Aida memory and I honestly can’t – there are too many to choose from. As Anna reminded me when she informed me of Aida’s passing last week, Aida truly had a larger than life personality. If you were anywhere near her, it was impossible to ignore her.
I loved and admired Aida’s ambition and drive. As much fun (and drinking) that we did that year living together, we also all pushed each other academically. I had a (fairly) strict rule of studying Sunday through Thursday – and then releasing that pent-up college energy on Friday and Saturday nights. Years later Aida thanked me and told me that this discipline helped her throughout college and law school. I was deeply flattered.
Where do I start with the memories? Given our living arrangement we naturally called ourselves Jack, Janet and Chrissy – after the 3’s Company characters. We even called the apartment manager Furley. We had “family meetings” once a week when we would talk about anything that bothered us – and gave us an outlet to air frustrations. Looking back, it was a pretty mature approach for a 21 year old and two 19 year olds.
If I had to pick one favorite memory, it would probably be Christmas of that year. We decorated the Christmas tree in our own unique way – the angel on top of the tree had her hair spiked like Billy Idol thanks to mousse we decided to apply. It was in preparation for a holiday party we hosted that included other friends from Clark Hall – Kelly and Cami (who were themselves roommates and would go on to be roommates the following year with Aida and Anna after my graduation). It was a night filled with many laughs and lots of beer and wine.
As I mentioned earlier, Aida earned her degree from UO and went on to Law School and passed the Bar in the state of Arizona where she settled with a husband (at the time). She set up a successful law practice and produced three beautiful daughters over the years. I lost touch with Aida for a chunk of time but it seems that somewhere along the line something changed and at some point we lost the Aida we knew and loved during our college years.
In 2012 we decided to have a mini-reunion here in Seattle around the Ducks-WSU football game. Kelly and Cami took the train from Oregon and Aida flew to town with her daughters for the weekend. Unfortunately Anna wasn’t able to join us. We met Friday night at Buca di Beppo for dinner and I remember seeing the glimmer in Aida’s eyes when I walked into the restaurant and we saw each other. We hugged tightly and she introduced me to her daughters. Before I knew it we were back in UO mode – Aida entertaining us with stories as only should tell them. I laughed so hard I cried. We got to experience the good Aida that night.
The next day it was a different story. We met for lunch and Aida wasn’t the same person. She was saying things that didn’t quite make sense. What started as a celebration soon became a concern as we witnessed her behavior and emotions changing rapidly and unpredictably. While we were able to enjoy the game together, there was an air of uncertainty and concern when the weekend ended. It was clear that Aida had some issues and we collectively worried about both her and her daughters.
Ultimately there was little anyone could do to help Aida. And its a damn shame. When I think about Aida I will remember the young woman I knew in college – full of ambition, hope and life. Someone who was smart, beautiful and funnier than hell. Those of us who knew her then know that we lost that person awhile ago but it doesn’t make last week’s event or news any less sad.
My thoughts and prayers go out to her family – especially those beautiful daughters. I hope they carry the best of what Aida had to offer and share it with the world in the years ahead.
Rest in peace Aida.
It wasn’t a bad dream. There was no nightmare to wake up from. It is all real. So very real. Today and tonight was an opportunity those of us who were George’s friends and family to gather and celebrate his life, and all that he brought to those he touched.
I can’t say enough how incredible the outpouring of love has been for George and his family, both immediate and extended. I have no doubt in my mind that he felt this love – although I seriously doubt he ever truly realized the impact he had on so very many people in his life.
My day started with a quiet 6 mile run along the Iron Horse trail, which was one of George’s favorites for running and bike riding as well. I ran with no music or app – just me and the path, silently reflecting upon life and running through my mind the speech I had written for his celebration of life service that was to be held at 5 pm.
Cathy and Janelle invited me yesterday on a short hike up and down the hills behind their home this morning – another favorite of George’s. We walked and talked together, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to have together time with no outside distractions or demands.
We also planned to meet for lunch today at George’s favorite Danville brewpub, Pete’s Brass rail and carwash. One of the original East Bay brewpubs, Pete’s was where George loved to eat and especially drink beer. He was an original member of the beer club, and collected more than 600 beers on his Connoiseeur’s Club card over the years. It was a fitting tribute to George as more than 25 friends and family members enjoyed a final burger and beer in his honor. George had talked Paul and I into joining the beer club when we moved to the Bay Area in 1998. But with him gone, we agreed there was no reason to keep our cards and we brought them home, while George’s epic card stayed with Cathy and the girls.
The celebration of life service began at 5 pm at the family’s church, East Bay Foursquare – no more than two miles from their home. It was touching and comforting to see so many faces from the past arrive to pay their respect. Friends drove from Southern California and all over the state and one relative flew in from Vancouver Island just to be with us and celebrate George’s life.
The service and speeches were beautiful. I was so very proud of my nieces Janelle and Megan (May) when it was their turn to speak. We all knew how emotional and difficult it would be for them but they rose to the occasion and blew us all away with their funny, emotional and honest memories of their father. Paul and I were provided the opportunity to speak as well, and again I was so very proud as I listened to Paul eloquently and passionately explain the impact George had on his life as the “baby” of the family. When it was my turn to speak, a flood of emotions rushed over me as I first opened my mouth and my voice quivered. I paused and after a few moments of feeling choked up, was able to slowly begin my speech.
After the service, a reception was held providing us with an opportunity to visit and socialize with many of the guests (more than 400 attended the service). It was touching how many strangers approached me to share their relationship with George – and explain how much he meant to them.
As I sit here in my hotel room I feel emotionally drained and exhausted. Our world was forever rocked Tuesday night when we all learned the news about George’s accident and passing.
Tomorrow we’ll all be leaving and beginning to try to return to our lives and routines. It’s going to be a difficult journey for all of us but I also know that this experience has pulled together two families like never before and we’re going to be a bigger part in each other’s lives moving forward.
Here is a transcript of the speech I gave in celebration of George’s life:
It’s an incredible honor to speak to you all today about George. I know I speak for my entire family when I say thank you for your outpouring of support, love and sharing of your memories of George and how he touched and impacted so many lives.
In some ways, George and I were opposites. He was a baby boomer. I was Generation X. He got married in his young 20s, I waited until I was in my 30s. My wife is 5’10, Cathy is well, you know. He had two daughters. I had twin sons. You get the idea.
But despite our differences there was always one constant: we were family first. And George never ever forgot that – nor let me forget it.
Like all of us here, George grew, evolved and changed as his life progressed. The man he was at 55 was obviously very different from the child and teen we knew growing up.
Growing up George was the ultimate big brother. He protected and stuck up for us younger siblings early and often.
When I was a young child I decided I would try driving our station wagon. I climbed into the car and put the gear into reverse. We lived on a hill and the car started rolling backwards. George had been playing nearby and sprung into action. He jumped into the drivers seat hit the brake and put the gear into park – preventing what could have been a bad situation. He was 12.
I was probably around the same age when our family took our first trip to Disneyland. Brer Wolf took my stocking hat off my head and teased me by dangling it just high enough so I could’t grab it. What did George do? He went over and punched the costumed character right in the gut. I got my hat back.
George loved cars as a teen. And I mean LOVED them. To this day, he’s still the only person I know who saved enough money to buy a car before he had his driver’s license. He had some pretty sweet rides too. Everyone who lived on Cassena Drive and neighboring streets remember his GTO and especially his Cuda. In the Summer when Paul and I slept with our window open, he would wake us up starting that engine and we would hear him driving to work in the mornings when had to open McDonald’s – until he was miles away and on the other side of the hill on Ygnacio Valley Blvd.
BTW, it was no coincidence that one of his favorite songs was “I can’t drive 55” by Sammy Hagar.
Speaking of music – George introduced me and the rest of the family to a LOT of 70s rock. He didn’t just have a record player in his room – no, he bought a full blown stereo system that he wasn’t afraid to use to its fullest capacity. I can’t tell you how many times I had “Smoke on the water” stuck in my ear thanks to George. I am confident that I was the only 5th grader in my school who knew Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Doobie Brothers, The Scorpions, Queen and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thanks to George. He taught me a great trick too: whenever mom yelled at him to turn down the stereo, he would turn the volume up first – and then back to its original level. For some reason it didn’t work quite as well for me though when I tried it later.
When we were in high school, Paul and I decided to host our own toga party when mom and dad were out of town. George wanted to make sure things didn’t out of hand so he (and Cathy) agreed to serve as bouncers for the party. Things didn’t get out of hand.
How many big brothers would do that?
Later in life George was the original Kaufer entrepreneur – he had the courage and drive to start his own company…Kaufer Construction. And this inspired me later to also start my own company in my 20s. I figured if George could do it, why can’t I?
George was a truly passionate father. From taking baby Janelle with him to job sites to bravely traveling alone with the girls when they were 5 and 3 on a train ride to Portland – there is nothing he loved more than being a Dad. And when the opportunity arose for him to an uncle to our children – he embraced that role just as passionately. He was an awesome uncle.
Before he was a wine connoisseur George was a beer-lover. I recruited George to run on our Hood-to-coast relay team in the early 90s – not long after he started running. The HTC requires you to run 3 separate legs of 4-6 mile runs. George was struggling on his final leg until we dangled a beer out the back of the van as his reward. He kicked it into gear and finished strong.
I have great memories of spending time with George and his family at both Pete’s and the Hopyard – and marking off those beers from our beer club cards. When Renee and I lived in the Bay Area, George and I were teammates for the first and only time in our lives (along with Cathy, Renee and many others in the audience today) on the legendary Chili Peppers co-ed softball team. We weren’t that good but we had a lot of fun.
More recently whenever we talked on the phone and I’d ask how he was doing, George would often say “Living the dream!” Lots of people say that but I really believe George meant it. He was living his dream of living where he wanted to live, spending time with those he wanted to be with and loving those who he loved.
We are gathered here to celebrate George’s life and there is much to celebrate. I think it’s important to step back and think about the collective work of George’s life when you remember him. Think about how far he came as a professional, brother, son, father, husband and man. I, for one, could not be more proud of him.
One of my favorite authors – John Steinbeck – put it well when he said:
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
I know I speak for so many when I say that our world will be a bit darker without George in it.
God Bless You George and may you Rest in peace
Tonight I lost one of only four people in the world who have been in my life since the day I was born. Tragically, my brother George passed away in our hometown of Walnut Creek, California after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle
on his way to a after his dentist appointment in Danville. He was only 55.
I’m in a state of shock and I’m sure I will be for some time. This type of unexpected death hits you like a sucker punch to the jaw.
George was the oldest sibling of four children – six years older than me. Because of the age difference, we weren’t especially close growing up but I certainly looked up to him in so many ways. Because he was the oldest, growing up was harder for him than for the rest of us. At least he told us that. I liked to tell him that he simply wore out our parents (or trained them) so that things were easier for Paul and I as we went through our teen years.
But as we both got older, we did begin to bond and forge a stronger relationship. George began to take his responsibility of “big brother” more seriously when I was in high school and made sure I didn’t make poor decisions. For example, once he found out that my friends and I had started partying and we asked him to buy us beer, he made sure it was Moosehead because, as he put it, “If you’re going to drink, I want to make sure you at least have classy beer.” Our mutual love of beer continued into my 20s as we discovered microbrews in Portland. George would go out with Paul and I and we downed our share of pitchers together. It was only later that he confessed that he had no idea how he was able to keep up with us.
But again as we grew older we grew closer with sports as well. George became a bigger 49er and Giants fan – and we began to go to games together. I have great memories of sitting with him and watching the 49ers demolish the Giants in a playoff game while I was in town visiting in 1993 – and also bringing his daughter (and my niece) Janelle to her first Giants baseball game (at the age of 2). When Renee and I lived in California we had many get-togethers with George and his family at their house – and in most cases there was usually a 49ers or Giants game on the TV.
Even though George was not as into football and baseball as I was when we were growing up, he was into NHL hockey, and was responsible for my first exposure to the sport. I remember going to a California Golden Seals game in the Oakland Coliseum with him and my Dad and the opponent was Montreal. Being a curious young sports fan, I had to ask him, “What is a Canadian?” I can still hear his laughter today. And it was that seed that was planted that helped lead to my love of the sport today. As a matter of fact, it was because of this hockey connection that I was so excited to share with him my experience of playing in a league for the first time. One of our last conversations was when I was driving to a hockey playoff game and I called him back after he had left me a message earlier in the week. I had to tell him about my first hockey goal – and he was clearly impressed (and proud). Even at 48, it felt good to have my big brother proud of me.
So how would I describe George? Well, like most of us, George was a pretty complex guy and difficult to nail down in only a few words. So I’ll use all the words that come to mind:
- Hard-working: While I like to think that all of us Kaufers have strong work ethics, George set the bar crazy high at a young age. As a teenager he spent Summers in Canada with our Grandpa and cousins building an outdoor market. He got a job at 15 to earn enough money to buy a car BEFORE he even had his license. As an aside, his early GTO Barracuda and other hot rod cars are still legendary among my friends. But I digress. George’s strong work ethic continued to this day. I have no idea how many 10+ hour days he’s worked over the past 5+ years in his role as construction manager for San Mateo School District. He has always taken his work responsibilities seriously and for that I always hugely respected him.
- Loyal – George was one of the most loyal friends or family members I’ve ever known. Those who knew and loved him all knew: if you needed him for anything, George would do whatever it took to help you out. When Renee and I were landscaping our yard in California, George loaned us his pickup to help haul away rocks. I didn’t know what half-ton meant until I told him I hauled 2 tons of rocks in a single load. He could have easily blown a gasket as I almost destroyed his truck but he calmly explained to me that “half ton” meant the maximum payload.
- Devoted: There is no doubt that the highlight of George’s life was being a father to Janelle and Megan. There was simply nothing he wouldn’t do for either of them if he felt it would somehow improve their lives or better prepare them for later stages in life. He simply cherished both of those girls and I know his absence will loom especially large in their lives moving forward. But I also know that I and the rest of their aunts and uncles will be there for them and will do our best to help fill that void as best we can.
- Passionate: When George decided to do something, he was into it 110 percent. It didn’t matter if it was cycling, wine-tasting/collecting, baseball cap collecting, sports memorabilia or his annual Christmas party: “Half-ass” never entered his vocabulary.
- Spiritual: George was a very devoted member of his church and I know he made many close friends through that association. He had a strong faith that helped him through difficult and challenging periods in his life.
- Organized: It didn’t matter if it was moving Mom from Portland to Pleasanton (or Pleasanton back up to Portland), George always took the lead in planning and arranging all of the key logistics.
- Loving: Even though George wasn’t always the best as talking about or showing his emotions, he let his actions show his true feelings. George had a deep love for his friends and all his family members. Nothing made him feel better than opening his home to others and encouraging all to enjoy the hospitality and company. And he made sure to check in on the most important women in his life: his mom and two daughters, with phone calls every week. I know those calls will be missed.
There are so many other things I feel like I could and should say about my brother now that he’s gone and I know I will think of many other things in the days, weeks and months ahead. He was responsible for so many “firsts” in my life: my first job (at a Big O Tire store), my first Indy-style race (at Sears Point Raceway, where I learned that people do drink beer at 8 am), my first wedding (he and Cathy) and my first opportunity to be an uncle to two adorable girls.
The days ahead will be filled with many more tears and sorrow as we mourn the loss of George in our lives. But I know there will also be opportunities for smiles and laughter as we collectively remember the fond memories and all that he brought into our world. At the end of the day I know that George would not like the attention and sorrow that will inevitably come – but its too difficult not to think of all that will be missed with him gone. We were planning a family reunion for this August that would have brought all of the four siblings together again to celebrate my Mom’s 80th birthday. The last such occasion was Thanksgiving 2013. Little did we know at that time that it’d be the last we’d all be together.
You just never know what life will bring – or when it will end.
I’m going to miss you big brother.
I admit it: I’m a proud father.
But when you have a son who counted to 100 at the age of 2, studied and understood the US highway system at the age of 4, and explained weather patterns to teachers in 2nd grade, you know you have a pretty special kid on your hands.
Every teacher, coach, and adult who knows Ty say the same thing: “He thinks differently – unlike any other child I’ve ever met.”
Recognizing Ty’s gifts early on, Renee and I were tasked with the challenge of keeping him engaged and interested in traditional classroom work and activities. At his Kindergarten teacher’s suggestion, we had him tested for the district’s “Challenge Program.” When we learned he wasn’t accepted in the program at that time due to his test scores, we weren’t too concerned because we thought that it would be good for Ty to attend the local school and build social relationships with other local students. We also realized that he probably just didn’t test well at such a young age.
Unfortunately and precisely because of Ty’s advanced cognitive ability, he struggles to identify with his peers and maintain friendships at school. It’s been heart-breaking hearing him cry and ask why other kids won’t be his friends at his current school over the past 3 years. His teachers have also noted that its sometimes difficult keeping Ty engaged in the classwork as he finishes his work far faster than his classmates and sits isolated the rest of the class time. After discussions with his teacher and school advisors, we decided it was time again to try to get Ty into the Challenge Program for 4th grade.
While Ty has exceptional intellectual abilities, he sometimes struggles in traditional timed, testing environments. This has been an issue throughout his academic career and his teachers have worked with him to overcome his anxiety and provide less stressful environments/situations when possible. However, this option isn’t possible when it comes to testing for the Challenge program.
We were optimistic that his additional experience in testing environments would help him to score high enough in the CogAT 6 test that is required by the Edmonds School District. So we were disappointed when we received a letter from the District at the end of January notifying us that he didn’t qualify for the Challenge Program based on the scores.
The world is full of amazingly gifted and talented people who excel in many areas of cognitive ability – but simply don’t perform well in structured testing environments. Ty is one of these individuals.
As the National Association for Gifted Children points out, “Tests are common assessment tools for identification, but should not serve as the sole source of identification…An identification strategy that includes multiple assessments—both objective and subjective—is the best way to ensure no gifted learner is overlooked.” The Association advises that when it comes to identifying gifted children, “Because no two gifted children are alike is important to collect information on both the child’s performance and potential through a combination of objective (quantifiably measured) and subjective (personally observed) identification instruments in order to identify gifted and talented students.”
When we told Ty’s teacher and others at his school that he wasn’t accepted in the Challenge Program, they were stunned and immediately wrote letters of recommendation as part of the appeal process. We quickly learned that the Edmonds School District wasn’t exactly supportive of parents appealing the decision, per their website:
“Appeal Process If your student did not qualify as gifted, you do have an option to appeal the decision. Most families with lower-than-expected CogAT scores do not appeal. If your child is doing well in school and is enjoying and thriving in his/her current experience, you probably should not appeal. If however, you believe your child’s performance is in the very superior range in comparison to peers, you may want to consider making an appeal. In order to support the Appeal process, compelling supportive evidence beyond the CogAT 6 test that was given to your student is needed. To complete the Appeal process, you may submit a few copies of your student’s work (no originals), teacher letters of reference, and current report card that strongly supports the student’s eligibility as a student who is academically gifted. Please choose one additional Cognitive Ability test that will help the MSC review your student’s appeal. The most commonly used additional Cognitive Ability Measure is the WISC IV. A state licensed psychologist must give the test and costs vary according to the test and the psychologist you choose.
• Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC IV)
• Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI)
• Stanford Binet Cognitive Assessment V
• Woodcock Johnson Cognitive Assessment Scales III
We decided to appeal the decision and learned that the cost of private testing was upwards of $500, depending on the professional used for the testing. Now, we already know that Ty doesn’t test well but this in and of itself doesn’t mean he’s not gifted. Because of the high cost of testing coupled with the fact that such private psychologists had waiting lists for such testing, we were not able to provide additional private testing results as part of our appeal.
While I was hopeful that Ty would be accepted into the program after his initial testing, I was highly confident that he would be accepted based on our appeal. We provided compelling evidence of Ty’s exceptional abilities despite structured test scores along with exemplary letters of recommendation from faculty members of his school. Surely the committee would understand that there are exceptional and gifted children who may not test well but should be part of the program – especially if every teacher that student has ever had considers him to be gifted.
So it goes without saying that we were crushed when we received another letter from the District rejecting Ty and our appeal from the gifted program. The primary reason? “The Committee looked at all the appeal and testing information, work samples, and exemplary letters from teachers; but they did not have any additional cognitive tests to compare with the CogAT scores. In Challenge, students are expected to identify and solve complex programs, explore concepts in greater depth and complexity and be able to work at a much higher level than students in the regular program.”
So in other words, the Committee doesn’t care what Ty’s teachers think. Or about his work samples or report cards. The only criteria they are using is test scores. We are saddened that families who cannot afford private testing are not allowed into the challenge program. Paying out of pocket for additional testing for the purpose of appeal puts an advantage on wealthy families and unfairly punishes those who cannot afford such private sessions. In our case, we priced out the private testing opportunities to find they are quite expensive and we ran out of time to find alternative means.
We were very explicit in our appeal letter that Ty just doesn’t test well in timed, structured settings, but that given additional opportunities to prove his abilities, he would outperform expectations.
While the most recent letter said that the Committee’s decision is final, we’re not settling for defeat yet because we know how important this is for Ty’s education and development. We’re currently exploring legal and other options, including discussions with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds. The process is broken and it needs to be fixed so that Ty and other deserving and neglected students are not unfairly excluded.
Yesterday as we were driving home from a fun Easter weekend spent in Portland, I came across some sad news in my Twitter feed. Lon Simmons, who was a broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants during the 1960s, 70s and 80s (and later the voice of the 49ers and Oakland A’s as well) passed away at the age of 91.
I’m part of the last generation of sports fans that had to follow their favorite teams primarily through radio broadcasts and daily box scores and articles as kids. There was no ESPN, Fox Sports or MLB network. For baseball fans like me, our connection came through transistor radios and Saturday games-of-the-week on NBC. And as a young Giants fans, I listened to countless games – many of them bad given the Giants performance in the 70s – with Lon Simmons in my ear.
When I was in 7th grade, I missed nearly a quarter of school in the Spring of 1978 with various illnesses, mostly allergy and asthma-related. I was confined indoors in our house, which was unbearable for a normally energetic 12 year old. But luckily for me, the Giants had gotten off to an uncharacteristically strong start that season and were actually competing with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West. Listening to the Giants games was the highlight of each day and I created my own calendar of upcoming games, so that I would have something to look forward to between home tutors and doctor appointments. The Giants were energized by a young power-hitting right fielder, Jack Clark (who quickly became my favorite player). And me and my friends quickly learned how to impersonate Lon’s famous home run calls, “It’s hit deep to left field…way back, way back, TELL IT GOODBYE! A home run!!”
As far as I was concerned, Lon Simmons was the greatest broadcaster on the planet. And later in life I (and millions of others) had the opportunity to vote online to help elect Lon to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He made it in 2001.
I met Lon once, before the famous 1982 49ers-Cowboys NFC Championship game. A friend and I had decided to go to the game and buy tickets from scalpers on-site. We had no idea how long it would take us to find tickets given our minimal $30 budgets so we decided to leave at 9 am for the afternoon game. As luck would have it, we immediately found a broker who sold us the tickets and we soon found ourselves with hours to kill before kick off. We decided to roam around Candlestick Park and somehow found ourselves on the mezzanine level, where the broadcast booths and suites were located. We recognized Lon exiting an elevator and made our way up to say hello. He was much taller than I expected – a reflection of the former pitching prospect he once was – and was very gracious. We were too nervous (and he was too busy) for much of an exchange but we told him how much we loved him and he thanked us.
It was both touching and interesting to read the many tributes for Lon that flowed on Twitter and social media after new broke about his death. It hit Giants fans and media members hard. Many also noted the role that he played in their lives as young sports fans listening to games in the Bay Area. Its not often that people have an opportunity to touch so many others who they never touch but that is truly one of the magical powers of mass media. And I hope that Lon knew how many he touched with his distinctive voice and witty sense of humor.
In honor of Lon, I’m sharing one of his greatest and most famous calls as a 49ers announcer.
Most people don’t think about how difficult it is for a child who has a special needs sibling. This is something I’ve been very aware of though with Ty since Stone was diagnosed with ASD just before the twins turned 3. Even though they are twins, Ty and Stone didn’t play together when they were younger. It’s only been recently that we’ve seen an increase in interaction between them. But in many ways Ty has been almost like an only child, with no sibling to talk to or play with through much of his childhood.
Add to that the pressure and awareness that comes from having a Special Needs sibling. Ty was 5 when he first asked us “What is Autism?” He’s told us that at school he’s had to defend Stone when other kids ask Ty why he’s so different. He’s accompanied Stone to countless speech and OT therapy sessions, always patiently waiting with Renee or I in the lobby while Stone goes through his paces. And Ty is always excited the minute Stone emerges through the door.
I think most parents who have multiple kids probably worry about playing favorites or devoting too much time or resources towards one sibling over another. This sensitivity is heightened exponentially when you’re the parent of a special needs child. Given all of the extra needs that are required, it would be very easy for the typical child to feel neglected or misunderstood. This is one reason why it’s important to me to be as involved as possible in Ty’s youth sports. I want to make sure he has time with me that is his own and has nothing to do with Stone or Autism.
Sometime in 2014 I became aware of a program called “SibShop” – provided by the wonderful organization Northwest Special Families (the same group that organizes the Special Santa program we’ve attended the past 5 years). The goal of SibShop is to provide an opportunity for kids who have special needs siblings to get together with other similar kids and learn simply they aren’t alone. Being a special needs sibling is a club nobody volunteers to join, yet it has its own unique and special characteristics that only members can best understand. So I signed Ty up for the shop last Fall and explained the concept to him.
On the day of the event, Ty was understandably nervous and reluctant to attend. He asked a thousand questions about it as we drove to Kirkland after school. The program features teen counselors (who also have special needs siblings) and adults who organize activities for the kids, who range in age from 1st through 6th grade. I signed Ty in and watched him walk apprehensively into the room. I was told I could pick him up in 3 hours – parents aren’t allowed to stay. This is truly the kids time to be with each other.
I found a local sports bar and watched Game 6 of the World Series while tackling some work via WiFi as I waited to pick up Ty. I was curious how it was going and hoping it was a positive experience. When it came time to pick him up I was thrilled to find an extremely excited and happy Ty greeting me. After signing him out I asked him if he liked it and he gave a very enthusiastic YES! He said that it was so much fun – and that he became so relaxed during a yoga session that he almost fell asleep. The event and experience was a resounding success and Ty said he couldn’t wait until the next SibShop (which happened to be last week – and again was a huge success in Ty’s mind).
Heading into the most recent SibShop Renee and I had noticed an increase in complaints from Ty about having a brother like Stone. He talked about how it was hard that Stone wasn’t interested in playing Minecraft or other activities with him. But since last week I’ve noticed a change in Ty’s attitude and interactions with Stone. He’s now trying to facilitate interaction even more on his end – from asking him questions to trying to get him say word or identify objects. I sense that Ty has accepted a new role as Stone’s twin brother and that he understands the situation better (or at least differently).
SibShop is exactly the kind of program that we need more of within the Autism community. Far too many families aren’t aware of (or able to access) these kinds of programs – most of which are created and managed by small organizations that are fighting for every funding dollar they can find. This is why I get annoyed with Autism Speaks. For all of the millions of dollars they raise through their very effective marketing and awareness-building campaigns, the bulk of their money goes to huge salaries for executives and genetic research. Only 4% of funds donated to Autism Speaks are reinvested in services and supports for autistic people and families. Many families impacted by Autism do not support Autism Speaks – if you’re curious why, simply Google “Autism Speaks Controversy” or something similar and you’ll find plenty of examples.
But the point of this post isn’t to vent against Autism Speaks, it’s to applaud Northwest Special Families and other local organizations like Washington Autism Alliance and Advocacy for the work they do for families like ours who are impacted by Autism daily. And SibShop is a terrific example of a program that has directly helped our family (especially Ty).
Today was officially declared (by someone, somewhere) “Autism Awareness Day.” I’m not sure really if, or how, we were supposed to commemorate the day but all of the attention that it – and April as “Autism Awareness Month” now receives has made me wonder what this all might mean through Stone’s unique (and often mischievous) eyes and perspective.
First of all, I feel very fortunate that Stone has such an amazing and supportive community surrounding him. I have heard of and read about horror stories from parents who have been embarrassed, humiliated and shamed by others due to the unconventional behavior of their child in public. And that is just horrible. But I’ve experienced none of this – at the worst I’ve had to answer a few questions from curious kids asking why Stone likes to watch videos on his iPad alone. But no dirty looks or snide comments. Usually what I do notice are smiling nods of approval as today more and more of the public “gets it” and understands that kids on the spectrum act in non-typical fashion.
I know that Stone has a huge supportive fan club – and I tell him this often. Whether its the formal network of teachers, aides and therapists or informal collection of neighbors, hockey families and our own family and friends, I know that Stone has a ton of people cheering him on, watching out for him and hoping for the best in his continued development.
And the good news is, we’re continuing to see strong, steady progress with Stone’s development. Within the past couple of months, he has graduated from only using single words (“dogs” for hot dogs for example) or single phrases as an umbrella statement (“go home” for anytime he wanted to go in the car). He now uses short and appropriate sentences such as “May I go in the car beach please” or “May I have candy please” (a favorite for obvious reasons). It’s exciting to see him beginning to understand more about language and how to use it to help communicate. The progress sometimes seems slow – especially when compared to Ty – but at least there is progress, and for that I’m grateful.
There remains many challenges – as there are raising every child. Sometimes I feel bad for all that Stone has to endure with our efforts trying to help him. He now has ABA therapy 3 days a week for 2 hour each session – after a full day at school. He has 2 hours of speech therapy and additional Occupational Therapy. He takes a cocktail of vitamins and supplements every morning and evening although fortunately he has learned how to swallow pills, so its much easier for all of us to go through this routine now. I still feel bad when he asks to eat something that he can’t have – such as pasta with alfredo sauce. Its just not fair that there is so much food we have to exclude from him yet we’ve seen the results all too often when we’ve ventured off the diet and allowed him the occasional “treat.” Invariably this results in Stone waking up at 2 or 3 am – and either Renee or I have to get up with him. His system just can’t handle it. And we can’t handle many nights with only 3-4 hours sleep.
What I’m most grateful for is the bond and relationship Stone and I have developed. I never knew it was possible to have such a strong connection when communication is limited as it is with Stone. But the bond is there and its as solid as granite. Stone shatters the stereotype that kids on the Autism can’t/don’t show emotion or affection. He’s incredibly expressive – and affectionate. I cherish the mornings we spend together cuddling or wrestling in bed. I sense how much I mean to him – and I believe he knows and understands how much he means to me too.
And Stone has begun to build a stronger relationship with his twin brother Ty too – and this is hugely important. For so long Ty has felt almost like an only child so he’s now thrilled to have any type of interaction with Stone – and its increasing all the time. Renee and I love watching them when one is chasing the other around the house – or tackling/wrestling each other on the bed or couch. They’re acting like “real” brothers and that is very gratifying.
So while it could be easy to be cynical about the publicity that Autism Awareness Day and Month receive, at the end of the day I’m grateful for it all. I have no doubt that the awareness that has developed has helped make Stone’s life and journey just a little easier. And we’ll take any help we can get.