STEVE HANLON: Something bigger than all of those games

2014-06-19T18:30:00Z 2014-09-09T23:06:16Z STEVE HANLON: Something bigger than all of those gamesSteve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
June 19, 2014 6:30 pm  • 

It was December 1999. These shoes were standing inside the Hammond Civic Center taking in The Times Region Roundball Rumble. It was a thrilling game in front of a packed house.

Then, these ears heard some shoes walk up from behind.

It was long-time Hammond businessman Roy Kolas, who is my uncle.

As a youngster, he went to many high school games at the Civic Center. He told me about seeing baseball legend Lou Boudreau play pro basketball there many years before. And all the other great prep showdowns.

On Saturday morning, I received a text that read, "Uncle Roy went to be with Jesus this morning. It was peaceful."

As I read the text, the sound of a bat hitting a softball cracked in front of me. With a tear in my eye, I thought how appropriate that was. Roy's first love was God. His family was second. But sports was always in the mix.

At the age of 65, the 1940 Hammond High grad started playing slow-pitch church softball again. Years of running the Kolas Christian Bookstore in Hammond, and now Highland, kept him off the field. But not in the 1980s.

He pitched. He did this for three or four years. I was amazed at the spunk and vigor he showed out on the field. And in life.

He was a World War II vet, defending America in the Battle of the Bulge. He was a little sneaky, too, in sending letters home to his first wife, Martha. When his company crossed into Germany on a bridge over the Rhine River, he sent a note home.

"I went to see the doctor today," it said. Their doctor in Hammond's name was Rhine. It got past the news police and my aunt knew where he was.

Up until his death at the age of 92, the Munster resident held a Bible study in his store. It was the light of his life. This man's love for people, helping many in need, is an icon for all to follow.

His family are wonderful people as well, save me. Which isn't a bad idea.

He once told me about seeing Wilt Chamberlain play at the Civic Center in 1959, I believe. In our 1999 conversation, he talked about other great high school games he'd seen there. The fog of years has taken the names and scores away from me.

Like me, he was a Cubs fan, sadly. He spent many days at Wrigley, hoping against hope. Being a life-long member of Hammond First Assembly of God-The Gate brought him more joy than the North Siders.

But life isn't about a baseball team or a softball team or any other kind of team. It gets crazy when those things are blown out of proportion. It's about things eternal and family. Those are the things that never fade away.

As a kid I remember going to the store on Hohman Avenue and he'd give me a rubber ball with a verse on it or one of those tiny puzzle boards where you had to get the balls to land in the holes. I never could. It's the only negative memory I have of Roy. I HATED THOSE THINGS!

Then, years later, my daughters got the same toys from time to time, a perfect little example of child-like love.

Part of this job that is so much fun is meeting fans at high school events. It is a bonus, for sure. Great people finding joy in a game. This week, though, I've thought much of one fan I spoke with 15 years ago.

I will never forget seeing you play ball in your 60s when your opponents were half your age. But much more importantly, I will never forget his prayers on Christmas Eve, filled with love and grace.

There was one thing Roy Kolas told everyone when he met them: "You are special."

What a legacy.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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