John Blakely ’61 is one of the good guys. I first met him through an exchange of emails and then a tour of the school, leading up to the November 11, 2011, All-Alumni Dinner. But last Friday at the Homecoming games was when I had the pleasure of spending 4 hours with him, as we watched the sophomore and varsity games together. The more I learned about his background, the more impressed I became, but what stands out more than anything, was his spirit for Brother Rice. Don’t presume he’s a “rah-rah goodie two-shoes” who’s not as “cool” as you or me. In fact, he’s definitely cooler than me. I felt like I was hanging around one of my favorite golfing buddies or a lifetime friend.
After a 20-year career as an Air Force electronics technician working on ground launched missiles, John moved into fighter aircraft maintenance in Marquette, Michigan; Oxford, England; Valdosta, Georgia; and Osan, South Korea. John then spent 10 years with General Electric as a logistics engineer in Cincinnati, before becoming an industrial engineer, a management engineer, and a project manager at various locations between Cincinnati and South Carolina.
John had no problem sitting amidst a bunch of Brother Rice sophomores (see picture) at Homecoming, while also becoming friends with five other guys from the 70’s (Larry Roth ’70, Larry Heavey ’71, Alumni President Mike Elwood ’74, Steve Rosenbaum ’74, Joe Ferrick ’75), along with Dan McCoy ’61 and Mark Battaglia ’92 (with wife, Wendy).
After having worked on recruiting guys for the 2011 50th Anniversary, John has kept in touch with classmates Fred Abrams, Tom Brinnehl, Tom Byrne, Tom Brigham, Mike Collins, Jim Dunne, Fred Giltmier, John Hankis, Jim Hincks, Steve Jurkatus, Tom Kalebic, George Lawler, Dennis Reilly, Jim Schaeffer, Irwin Solomon, Bob Weiland, and Jim Zeug.
John is mostly retired now, but keeps busy officiating many track meets in central Ohio.
Yes, John made it to the Homecoming game from Cincinnati. He stayed at a Motel 6 near the Indiana/Illinois border and did not return to his lodging until the varsity game was over at 10:15 P.M. Where did such spirit first catch fire? John credits his 50th Anniversary experience in his own words in a letter he shared with the Class of ’61 guys and me:
Hey There Class of ’61:
As the time approached for the 50th reunion last year, I was introduced to Facebook and began surfing names I remembered. That caused me to commit to attending the reunion. I told my wife about it and asked if she wanted to go as well. At first she wasn’t too excited but eventually decided to come along.
When we got near the Brother Rice campus, I almost didn’t recognize the whole area. During school days when we stayed late, we had to walk across the field to get to 103rd. That field is gainfully employed now; it is full of houses – an All-American success story.
I parked in the parking lot (it looked the same) and I believe the tennis courts were still there but the open field between Rice and McAuley had a big stadium and baseball field. I almost got lost walking into the building at first with an additional gym, the pool and all but then got to the office area and my anxiety eased a bit. My wife asked me if I knew where I was going – I replied “of course.”
Shortly after, Jim Casey and Tim O’Connell came out and then we began the tour. I was impressed. I knew that the school was built with a tendency toward technology and they kept that firmly in focus. Every classroom had Smart boards and the science rooms have highly equipped work stations. Conference rooms, catered cafeteria, and a world-class library. Oh yeah, the old library contains more work stations and the servers for the labs and classrooms.
The tour showed me how well our alumni contributions had benefitted the school. One of my favorite parts of the day happened when my wife Judy and I walked to our car afterward. Like many who haven’t experienced the benefits of an all-boys high school, she always wondered why I wanted to do that. Being honest with you, I wondered about that too back when I was attending Brother Rice but it was, and it is good. Anyway, I asked her what she thought. With that she asked how far Des Plaines was from Brother Rice (my brother lives in Des Plaines). I said it was a long way but asked why she wanted to know that. She said she wanted “to get Parker (our youngest grandson who lives in Cincinnati) into that school.” Not bad Casey, you were on the stage for less than two hours and turned her into a “Rice girl.”
The reunion was a lot of fun, before, during, and after. This year’s Homecoming was also great but in a slightly different way. The plans for the huge showing at Homecoming were just a touch under amazing but if there’s one thing I have learned about going back to Rice, it doesn’t take a lot to make a good event. It looked like a bunch of guys were interested in going, but then a number of family and other things took priority which is very understandable.
Anyway, in spite of a loss on the field, it was good to be there. Jim Casey had a sign made for the “Class of 61″ which I had on display throughout the game and raised high when Bill Harmon was inducted into the Circle of Champions. We’ll be able to use it in the future for planned (or unplanned) get-togethers. I put that sign in the hands of Denny Reilly as he lives near the school and I’m in southwest Ohio. Plus Denny is still active with the Dad’s Club in case anyone wants to use it.
As for the guys who were there from 61: Dan McCoy, Denny Reilly (also chief cook and bottle washer), Jerry Mader and John Walsh (2012 Circle of Champions Inductees) and myself, John Blakely. A group from the ’70 class filled in around where Jim and I were sitting and it was fun to compare notes on our days at Rice – they were not terribly different except for references to cement dust in the halls.
Lots of stories but one of my favorites is still one I heard following one of our first varsity games, I believe in ’59 against CVS. Mader came to school after that game talking about some big and bad dude who went on to Illinois then the NFL for the Bears (Can you name him?)
I’m pretty sure I brought this up to those of you whom I’ve talked to on the phone, but in case I haven’t, if you haven’t been back to Rice for a long time, go over and take a look. All those pledge calls over the years have paid some high dividends. I’m sure you’ll be pleased and impressed. To get a guided tour, call Jim Casey at 773-429-4456. He says he is always ready to connect with alums and to show them what their school is today.
Have a great Fall and those going to the reunion on Nov 9, have a ball.
All the best,
John tells me he looks forward to Homecoming next year and to future reunions, where lots of stories (some embellished) are told. Speaking of those kinds of stories, I recently spoke with John Tracy ’64, who is recuperating in Michigan City and was visited on September 14 by 1964 classmates Marty Berry, Don Cranley, Dennis Duffy, and Dick/Charlie Yanz. John started laughing just recalling silly stories, like the time they were in class and frustrated a teacher so much that he yelled, “I’ve got three words for you, get out!”
So I have three words for you – get out and come to the reunion on November 9, 2012 in the Cafeteria, and keep the stories going.