Hall of Fame
I was inducted into the Ottawa High School Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 8, 2014. It was a very nice moment. My brother Tony and my Uncle Art had already been inducted as members of high school sports teams (basketball and football respectively), so I'm the 3rd family member to attain the honor.
There should be a fourth. His name is Bill Mason, and he's my father.
My father died some 16 years ago, the victim of a failed heart, ironic only because his was so big, so strong, so passionate that he could take your worst-ever day and make it the best. He's my hero, my guide and my rock.
My wife's first reaction upon meeting him: "He is bigger than life!" and that sums up the man who should have been inducted to Ottawa's wall of esteemed graduates. Never mind that he loved the town, the school and the teams. His credentials are pretty amazing.
He was kept out of WWII because while "breaking" horses as a boy, one fell on his foot and crushed most of the bones in it. He walked with a noticeable gait that wasn't quite a limp but wasn't quite right, either. It didn't slow him down.
Raised during the depression on a farm in central Illinois, there is a picture of him posing with his 6th grade class on the steps of a brick-and-mortar school. The boys are dressed in overalls and t-shirts, ill-fitting clothes handed down from brother-to-brother because money was so tight.
My father, however, stands out. He's dressed in a suit and tie. Every child, and even the teacher, wear scowls on their faces. It's a tough life and nothing's coming easy. But Bill Mason has a smile as wide as the Illinois River. His hair is neatly combed and his eyes are bright. "I'm getting out of here," you can practically hear him say. "I have things to do!"
He went into the business of broadcast radio, working every kind of job he could get. He didn't have time for college, barely graduating from the University of Illinois (via Purdue, Indiana and a couple of other schools)
with a degree in agriculture. He met my mother at WSOY, Decatur, Illinois (the Soybean Capitol of the World!) and the two of them spent a life working in the medium they had grown up with in 1930's America.
My dad eventually landed at WGN in Chicago. He did 2 radio shows and a TV show for many years with the legendary Orion Samuelson. He didn't shy away from voicing his opinion, often editorializing and pontificating on the air, always on behalf of the American farmer. His speech, "The Third Agricultural Revolution," earned him appearances all over the Midwest. He served as the President of The National Farm Broadcasters Association and his work on behalf of American agriculture and the American farmer took him around the world. He worked closely with Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz in the 1970s.
He was married 47 years to the girl he met at a little radio station in southern Illinois. Raised 3 boys, had 6 grandkids and loved life. He represented the city of Ottawa, Illinois about as well as it could be, and loved the high school. We moved back to Ottawa and I played football for that school, and his booming voice could be heard over the loudspeakers from the Illinois Valley to Chicago. My brother Tony played basketball and would call me after the games. "Dad totally intimidated the referees tonight... I think he probably got us 8 points just by scaring them with his voice!"
I'm proud to be part of the Ottawa High School Hall of Fame. My father should be there too. My acceptance speech lasted about 8 minutes. His? We’d still be there, listening!
Come see me represent the man and his energy, his love of life and his ever-present sense of humor with which he blessed me. Tickets for my performance on February 22 at The Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights, Illinois can be purchased here