As soon as I walked through the doors to get my oil changed at Daley's Chevrolet I would hear his shockingly loud but at the same time cheerful voice bellowing in conversation two rooms away. I'm not caught off guard by it though because this voice is very familiar to me and to almost everyone else who lives in the community where I grew up.
This is the voice we all heard cheering in the stands of our countless sporting events and laughing at our wedding receptions.
Now that I'm older, every time I heard his voice it would instantly bring back memories of the good ol' days when life was simpler and playing ball with my buddies on long summer days was all that mattered.
It's a voice I'll never forget along with the man it belonged to, Gus Ottersburg.
Gus is, and will forever be, a LEGEND to myself and many others. He was a truly larger-than-life person that left a positive impact on the world that will live on long after his passing a few days ago. If Gillespie, Illinois had it's own Hall of Fame he'd be a first ballot inductee!
The only thing bigger than Gus' stature was his heart, and as well known as he was for his booming voice, he was even better known for his ears. He had a knack for being able to listen to people's problems and figure things out quickly and concisely. (There is a reason everybody always said "Don't cuss. Call Gus!")
I remember walking into Wal-Mart shortly after one of my relatives passed away several years ago. I was 19 years old and wasn't familiar with the feeling of death happening so close to me yet.
Gus was coming out the door as I was walking over to get a cart. I nodded, said "hey Gus." and turned to grab the handle of a cart. Just then, out of the corner of my eye for a split second, I saw a large figure behind me.
Then I was startled by a hand the size of a grizzly bear paw that tapped me on the back and grabbed the back of my neck. It was Gus!
He asked "How are ya' doin' son?" I said, "Not too bad, but not too good either." I still remember it like it was yesterday, he looked at me, massive hand still around the back of my neck, and said "You have to be strong for your family. You hear me, they need you to be strong through this!"
I always remember those words during every hard time my family and I have faced since that day.
Everyone knew that in his later years Gus was hit with a multitude of health issues, but his strength never wavered. Until his last days the only response he would give when someone asked him how he was doing was "Fantastic!" never uttering one word or complaint about his health.
From now on, it will feel like there is a piece missing from the heart of the little town in central Illinois where Gus was a friend, family member, and mentor to so many.
But we can take comfort in knowing that he is now kicked back in his lawn chair in the front row of the big ballfield in the sky carefully watching over and helping guide us all through the ups and downs of life from here on out!
"Heroes get remembered. Legends never die!" - Babe Ruth, The Sandlot
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