Remembering men I never met

BY MIKE HANKS

mike.hanks@ecm-inc.com

I never met them, but three men who died recently in a span of less than 72 hours have left an indelible impression upon me.

I was still at the office late one recent Friday afternoon when I learned that longtime Twin Cities radio broadcaster George Chapple had died. I never listened to him much, but I certainly knew of his alter ego, "Dark Star."

As I listened and watched tributes to Chapple on local radio and television stations in the days that followed, I came to appreciate his love of radio. Chapple had cultivated a radio personality that many people had grown to love, and he loved the medium even more, I learned.

I split my time many different ways in the course of a year, and lately I have spent a lot of time wondering if my life is lacking something if I can’t say any one aspect of my life is my passion.

I’m sure people whose lives are consumed by their jobs or hobbies wish they had more time to pursue other interests. The grass is always greener, they say. Chapple seemed to have the best of both worlds, combining his work and his passion for sports and horseracing. We should all be so lucky.

Less than two days after the announcement of Chapple’s death I learned that Richard Dawson had died.

The memories are vague, but – as a kid who enjoyed a good game show more than a cartoon by age 5 – I remember watching Dawson host "Family Feud" many times during the original nine-year run of the show.

Sure, there are still a few traditional game shows to be found around the dial, but the offerings are fewer and far between. Even if today’s weekday TV schedule was littered with game shows, as it was in the 1980s, I wouldn’t get a chance to watch many of them, even with the online streaming technology that gives us access to TV shows around the clock.

Dawson’s death wasn’t akin to losing a piece of my childhood, but it reminded me of those long lost days, when life was simpler and I was easy to please. Had it not been Dawson, it would have been someone else, but nonetheless I have been losing great friends of my childhood in recent years. I don’t think anybody will replace the fondness in my heart for Dawson, Gene Rayburn or Peter Tomarken, and that’s unfortunate.

Hours after I learned of Dawson’s death I received an email that Harry Driste’s health was rapidly deteriorating. The next morning I received a phone call telling me that Driste, 101, had died Sunday evening.

I only learned of Driste in recent weeks, and unlike Chapple and Dawson, he wasn’t a locally or nationally known entertainer. Driste is a former Bloomington elementary school janitor I learned about as a result of a story I had recently written.

I’m not sure how many janitors receive giant congratulation cards from former students, but in 1973 Driste received one. He could have been rather anonymous in performing his duties as a school janitor, but instead he befriended students, so much so that they cared enough to wish him well upon his retirement nearly 40 years ago.

The simple story about how students cared so much when his career came to an end is hard to forget. Do I inspire that sort of appreciation when doing my job? If not, do I care? Simple questions, not so simple answers.

Losing a friend or family member is hard. Chapple, Dawson and Driste were neither, but their lives and recent deaths have had an impact they’ll never know. Will the same be said of us?

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