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Four years ago, I was surreally standing in the reception line for my father’s wake service. Hundreds of people shuttled by to pay their respects, but I don’t recall many of them, or what they had to say. They meant well.
One gentleman came through though I will never forget. Dressed immaculately, he ambled through the line, insecure in his steps. His shoulders were hunched and eyes rimmed red, moist, unusual from this gregarious man. His face had a morose, tight countenance to it. The man was long-time attorney from Kankakee, Richard “Dick” Ackman.
I met Dick thirty years ago, when he was the same age I am now, shortly after he married wife, Peggy. By the time I met him, he had become friends with my father. That friendship would flourish, culminating to become best friends at the time of dad’s passing.
I knew little about Mr. Ackman’s law practice, although I have heard he was brilliant and dogged in his profession. If you read his obituary, you will have seen he was quite accomplished professionally, much more than I realized. I would eventually learn and meet his three very accomplished children, Kathleen, Jeff, and Todd. But the Dick Ackman I knew was from dinner parties, holiday get-togethers and the golf course, and is what I wanted to share with you.
I always found it odd that dad and Dick were best of friends – they didn’t seem to have much in common. They were ten years apart in age. Dick would drink fine wine; dad drank inexpensive vodka. Dick grew up the son of a bank owner in Marengo, dad the son of a truck driver from Chebanse. Dick was in the Navy, dad the Army – the source of a few ribbings at the expense of each other. Dick went to the University of Illinois and passed the bar exam before graduation – dad went from the Army to driving a truck. They argued with each other, albeit like brothers.
But what they did have in common was a thirst for knowledge, political discourse, compassionate hearts for the less fortunate, respect of each other, and of course, the game of golf.
Our kids adored Dick as he took genuine interest in what they had to say. He was like that with all the children he met. He had a huge heart because he was a big kid himself. Peggy’s nieces reported watching the movie “Curly Sue” with him; they caught him crying. She also mentioned the ice cream parties he liked to have with kids while the parents visited outside. Dick sponsored kids at the YMCA and helped send four girls through college.
Over the years, Dick became a very good golf player – some might say “legendary.” Fellow golfer and buddy, TR Ryan called Dick one of the best “week-end” golfers ever. After Dick could no longer play, it was TR who would sit beside Dick on the first hole of the Country Club just to watch the golfers.
Incredibly, Dick was a member of the Kankakee Country Club for nearly 60 years, won a Rollison tournament, and a handful of flight championships – it could be said he was “extremely” competitive on the links. He also belonged to the Turtle Creek Country Club in Tequesta Florida, of which I was a guest on many occasions. He was the only man I ever saw who could hold a conversation …during his back swing.
Dick had a passion for life, loved to tell a joke, and had a loud infectious laugh. Sadly, those traits disappeared in the last few years of his life, reminding us how cruel life can be towards our elderly – but he was fortunate to have his loving wife, Peggy by his side. What I wouldn’t give to hear that laugh again, particularly during his golf swing. That laugh left us forever at the end of July.
I always listened carefully to what Dick had to say. Like dad, he had become a mentor to me, as there was always something to be learned. But the words I’ll never forget were those he spoke in dads wake procession. With wet eyes and a quivering lip, he softly said, audibly to only me, “all my friends are dying before me, and now my best one’s gone. I need to stop making friends.”
With that, he walked off without another word.
So long my friend and thank you.