2020 has been a year marked by loss. The havoc wreaked by Covid, divisive politics, violence and destructive natural forces has affected us all.
That’s why I was surprised when the news of two recent deaths hit so hard. Both men were members of the University of Kansas family — Jayhawks, through and through. I knew both of them, and I am saddened by their passing.
Football fans will remember Gale Sayers as the “Kansas Comet” or even as “Gallopin’ Gale,” so named because of his speed and ability to elude defensive attackers on the gridiron. I remember him as a college freshman, sitting with many of his teammates in English 1a-x. (That was the old code for a remedial class for those of you who don’t know the jargon.)
Gale was an exceptionally skilled athlete but one who was totally unprepared for college academics. He struggled, changed and learned to apply and express himself, utilizing help and eventually completing a Master’s Degree. He returned to Lawrence after his football career as an Assistant Athletic Director before building a business empire in Chicago.
Sayers has been celebrated for his success on the field as a two-time All American and as the youngest player to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He brought speed and fireworks to the game he loved and claimed that all he needed for a successful return was “18 inches of daylight.”
I honor him for the man he became — a citizen, philanthropist, family and business leader — whose motto “I Am Third” summarized his values in life. (“The Lord is first; friends second and I am third.”)
His book by that name was made into the television movie “Brian’s Song,” viewed by half the population of this country when it aired in 1971. This 77-year-old man who put himself last died September 22, a winner in life.
The other gentleman has ties to Miami County. Dr. Richard Schiefelbusch was born in Osawatomie in 1918 and was graduated from Osawatomie High School in 1936. He was named the Outstanding Alumni of that school in 2002 for good reason. He died September 23, at the age of 102.
Dr. Schiefelbusch touched our lives in ways you may not realize. He was a leader in speech-language pathology, language development and disorders, special education and intellectual and learning disabilities.
He led KU’s Bureau of Child Research for 35 years, shaping it into one of the leading such organizations in the world. That center, expanded to study broader issues in human health and development, was renamed for him in 1990, one year before his retirement.
I met him quite by accident back in the late 1990s. He was a faithful participant in the Osawatomie Alumni Association’s annual reunion, and I welcomed him and many others to the Osawatomie History Museum.
He returned every year and, when the museum grew to include the Hall of Honor and the Depot Museum, became a donor. He gave textbooks he had authored and his memoirs of being a POW during World War II. He was a great story-teller, aided by his intellect, good humor and love of people and life.
There you have it. Two men, very different from one another in background, interests and abilities, are gone. They left legacies that can teach and inspire us, and their life stories remind us to be humble, active and goal-oriented. Those are good lessons in these troubled times.