Missing Him Never Gets Any Easier

It has been 16 years now since my grandfather’s life came to an end. He had an amazing run and quite a story to tell.

He was born into poverty in Des Moines, Iowa. One of four children. At a young age, he juggled both school and work. Hard work. Sometimes he filled pot holes for the city of Des Moines. Other times he worked as a butcher’s assistant. Still other times he made bread and other baked goods in a large commercial bakery.

Perry 1

Perry Weatherly was by no means a good student. By his own admission he barely skated by. But later years would show just how smart he was. At an early age, he found the love of his life. A woman named Lorraine Keller; who was alternately his biggest fan and his unabashed critic if she thought he was wrong. In his junior year of high school at Des Moines North, Perry told Lorraine he was thinking about dropping out of school and going to work full-time in a butcher’s shop. Lorraine’s reaction was blunt; “I would never marry a man who didn’t graduate from high school.” Needless to say, Perry stayed in school.

Perry 2

He eventually became an apprentice to Lorraine’s father who was an electrical contractor. Perry quickly picked up the finer points of electrical and mechanical engineering. His mind keen to the dangers that came with working with live power. His heart on the future with the woman he loved.

Perry and Lorraine married in October 1941. About 6 weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And about seven months after that, Perry was drafted into World War II and left his wife, his hometown and everything he knew behind. He would not return for four years.

Perry 3

Perry was assigned as engineer to the 5th Army, alternately under the command of General George Patton and General Omar Bradley. He ended up seeing things he thought he never would and wished he never had.

He helped fight the Germans in a ground battle in Ethiopia. He had to keep tanks running and guns firing in a desert; where sand can jam everything and where heat can make motorized machines grind to a halt. He visited places with strange names; Morocco. Algeria. He was with the 5th Army when they moved into Italy and began to liberate the country from the Axis stronghold imposed by dictator Benito Mussolini. The 5th set up shop in the Roman Colosseum and there were many nights where Perry woke up to air raid sirens and the sounds of German airplanes overhead. There were many nights where Perry made peace with God in case his time had run out.

But the 5th Army secured Italy and returned freedom to the land. Perry was in the square in Milan in April of 1945 when Mussolini’s dead body was hung from a rope for all to see.

It was while in Italy that Perry developed a love of lasagna, spaghetti, pizza….and Opera. Perry loved Opera. If you just looked at him, you would have no idea that he had a passion for music.

He returned home from war. He helped his father-in-law grow the electrical contracting business. Six years later, he and Lorraine would have their only child; a daughter, Kathy. My Mom.

He spent the next 30 years working hard….and loving his family. This man had his priorities straight. It is one of the reasons he was my hero. He remains to this day the most focused man I have ever known.

In 1991, he lost the love of his life to Pancreatic Cancer. It remains the only day in my life where I ever saw him shed a tear. It scared me. I didn’t know what to do. I think he was crying because, in addition to be terribly sad…he too was scared and didn’t know what to do. I have seen a lot of heartbreaking things in my life; but the sight of that man with tears in his eyes hits me in the gut to this day. And I think it always will.

Perry 4

I grew up with my Grandfather always being present in my life. Anything good in me comes from the influence of my Mother, Grandmother and Grandfather. He did not want any of us to ever be sad or frustrated…and while he realized there is a certain amount of life where struggling can’t be avoided….he didn’t want us to struggle either.

My Grandfather was pleased with his life. He felt like he had done a lot of things and learned a lot along the way. He once told me that he didn’t do too bad “for a boy from Iowa”. I don’t think so either.

Random Thoughts While On The Road

 I don’t know about you but I’m a big believer in driving when I take a trip. Sure flying can be more convenient. But when you’re traveling among the clouds you miss so much culture on the ground. I have always had a wanderlust. For as long as I can remember I have loved to travel places and see different things. For me there’s nothing like going down the interstate with your radio on just seeing what’s around you.

 I love driving old state highways. There is something about driving through an area that’s filled with lots of green trees and lots of green farm fields. I have worked in a lot of different places and seen a lot of different things. But the older I get the more I realize that while you can take the boy out of the Midwest, you can’t take the Midwest out of the boy. When you drive through a small town and take the time to stop you realize why people live there. The quality of life is really something to be desired. For the most part people are nice and they still take the time to say hello. You see kids playing in the front yard with their friends and maybe a dog.

 I know some of you will say small towns are tough to live in because everyone always knows your business. And that may be true. But the same people who know your business are probably the same people who are also keeping an eye on your kid while watching their own kids.

 I grew up in a larger city. But that larger city maintained its Midwestern values. Now when I visit a larger cities in the Midwest they all seem to blur together. Everyone seems so busy and so focused. It’s smaller towns that still feel like home to me.

 So why am I thinking about this now? Good question. I don’t really know. I think maybe something my friend Trent said. Trent and I are both in our early forties. We are both members of Generation X. We are wedged in between the baby boomers and the high-tech generation. We’re entering that weird stage of life where we are starting to worry about our parents AND our children while feeling a weird sense of disconnect to the generation that comes after all ours. Trent summed it up nicely what he said “I’m tired and just want to relax”. I think he might be on to something because I find myself feeling the same way.

 Maybe it’s a little bit of generational fatigue. But I find myself more and more wishing that people were nicer. I find myself thinking more and more that I wish people were a little more understanding of one another. I find myself wondering what happened to the concept of courtesy and respect. It is a very big and very busy world. A lot of things are seemingly happening all at the same time. I guess maybe the reason I have comfort on my mind is more than a sense of nostalgia. It’s how I wish the world was. Right now nothing really seems comfortable. People seem more impatient and meaner. And I wish that wasn’t so.

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Brian’s Blog: Do Blogs Really Matter?

 If you are reading these words, then you are of a belief that blogs matter. I believe they do too. But you and I are but two people in a big world. And maybe we are in the minority.

 We live in such a time right now; when anyone can make themselves well-known (either famous or infamous) based on the words they write and then publish. Blogs can provide a glimpse into someone’s soul: what they believe, what they value, what they cherish.

 But there are so many blogs out there right now. I feel fortunate to have you reading this because I know I have so many “competitors”, so many other writers who have something to say and a forum to say it in. This is my forum and this is what I want to say.

I am at home behind a keyboard. I began typing out short stories on an old typewriter when I was about 8-years-old. I can not imagine a life where I did not regularly sit down and write.

 Why do blogs matter? Because I believe, boiled down, blogs are about human nature. People have a desire to share. People have  a desire to learn and for their minds and hearts to be stimulated. People want to know that someone is there and that someone cares; that someone is paying attention. I think, in a way, blogs do this. Write something in a blog and you are automatically sharing something. And if that something is of value, it makes you think and perhaps you learn something about the world around you. Or maybe you learn something about yourself. And if you write a blog and someone reads it, that shows a level of caring. Even if you never see that reader face to face. Even if you never know who that person is….they took the time to click the link that leads them to your blog and they read your words.

 I write my blog through WordPress. And a part of the blog function allows me to see how many people have found my blog worthy enough to read. And I fortunate in the fact that when I publish something, hundreds of people usually take the time to read it. It is humbling and it is confounding all at the same time.

 Do blogs matter? Yes. Because words matter. And the sentiment behind words matter. If you have ever heard someone say “It’s not what you say but how you say it”, they are only half right. It IS what you say but it’s also how you say it.

 There are wonderful people in this world. Delicate people who may not have the confidence or social skills to get what’s on their mind and in their heart…off their chest. They may feel uncomfortable in a public setting. They may feel uncomfortable in actually saying something they believe out loud. They may feel they don’t really have a voice.

 I have a voice. I don’t know if it ever says anything of value, but I hope it does. And sometimes, that voices comes out through my fingers when I type on a keyboard to form my blogs.

 Words matter. Thoughts matter. 

 And please don’t ever make the mistake in thinking that blogs need to be cold hard facts or an outlet for opinion. While both have their place, I would implore you to never, ever turn your back on emotion. Too many people pay too much attention to their brain and not enough attention to their heart. The best emotions in life are based in your heart: consideration, compassion, understanding and love. This world would be a better place if those ideals were adhered to more.

 Words matter. My words. Your words. The words of others. It can be overwhelming and it can seem like when you add it all up it just adds to the noise of the world. Maybe it does. But a quiet world would be boring.

Brian’s Blog: How Much Social Media Is Too Much? (and some random thoughts)

 The question I pose in the title of this blog is a massive can of worms just waiting to be opened; how much social media is too much?

 As a part of my job, I am encouraged to have a presence in social media. I am encouraged to leave a positive footprint and encouraged to use social media to develop a connection with my family, friends, listeners and viewers. And given the technological advances that are being made….almost daily…I understand social media’s value and worth. This isn’t going to be one of those blogs that criticizes and downgrades social media as being something that will lead to the downfall of society and the end of humanity as we know it.

 That being said, again, I think it is smart and wise to pose the question: how much social media is too much?

 As I sit here, I can think of several different social media applications that I use daily. If you want to find me on Twitter, you can. If you would like to follow my work on KSFY-HD in Sioux Falls, you can do that as well by liking my professional Facebook page. You can see some of my work (past and present) by looking or subscribing to my YouTube channel. I am well connected professionally, and you can check that out by visiting by LinkedIn profile. And so on and so forth.

 But, is it too much?

 For example, I place value on having all those accounts and others. But as you sit there reading those words, how many of those above links would you seriously click on and follow up on? Do you want to follow me on Twitter? Do you want to follow me on Facebook? LinkedIn? YouTube? Et cetera?

 I know from the weekly reports I receive on these accounts that people are finding and connecting with me. And I am not doing any type of “advertising” or anything. It is just happening.

 On one hand, it is humbling to think that people would be interested in what I say and what I do. It truly is. I work primarily in TV news but I never think that what I do makes me unique or special or anything like that. In fact, I abhor people who have that attitude. Mass media, specifically news broadcasting, is for the benefit of the public. And those who work in news should never make the mistake that what they do makes them any better or more important than anyone else. My job is different, yes, but it allows for widespread recognition (and if I do my job poorly, widespread criticism).

Random Thoughts

(1) If I had satellite radio, it would constantly be set on the “70’s on 7” channel and I would leave it there. Is there any music better than the 70’s?

(2) The song “Love’s Theme” by Barry White came onto my I Pod today while I was driving around and it brought a smile to my face. Listen and enjoy.

(3) My son Austin is truly my Mother’s revenge on me. Quick, witty and questions everything. It would be admirable if it wasn’t constant and coming from an 8-year-old. Sigh.

(4) Love has a way of making everything better….if you just let it.

(5) Sometimes, photoshop can make you laugh. I saw this today in my Facebook feed and it made me laugh. Rockin’ on the Enterprise!

“I’m not a guitarist Jim….oh wait….”

 Thanks for stopping by and taking a read. It is always appreciated. Here’s hoping you have a good rest of your day.

Brian’s Blog: Grandpa Keller

 I don’t really know how common this is or not. It is not one of those things that naturally pops up in conversation with friends. But I was a lucky little kid because, for a while, I had my great-grandfather in my life.

 His name was Harry Keller. He was my grandmother’s father. And I remember him. He died when I was about 5-years-old. But for a time while I was young, he and I lived in the same house. We were around each other every day.

 He was always good natured. I remember a lot of hugs and a lot of butterscotch candy that he would slip me when no one was looking. It was good. I think it is why I still like them to this day. I remember doing silly dances for him to make him laugh. I remember a lot of Summer afternoons in the backyard, looking at rose bushes that he attended to. I remember drinking lemonade with him at the kitchen table when it was hot outside.

Harry Keller was my great-grandfather. He is pictured here in either the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. He was an exceptional man.

 He was such a dear man. Such a sweet man. The story that I don’t think I will ever forget was the afternoon he and I were in the backyard. I had an oversized set of golf clubs and I hit the big plastic ball that came with them over the backyard fence. He hoisted me over the fence so I could get the ball, but half-way through the hoist I ended up getting stuck on the fence and he couldn’t get me off. He had to run inside for help and I remember thinking “Where are you going? I am stuck on a fence!”

 I remember the winter’s day where a storm had moved in. It was snowing a lot. And he decided he was going to walk one block to the grocery store. I told him I wanted to go with him and he said no, that he would be right back. I remember standing at the kitchen window, tears streaming down my face as he walked into the snow. I did not want him to go alone and didn’t understand how anyone else thought it was OK for a nearly 80-year-old man to walk into a winter storm alone.

 Eventually, he got sick. Really sick. It was Cancer. I didn’t understand that then. What I remember of the time is going to an old brick building on the campus of Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines and showing him my new Star Wars figures. I explained who each character was and if they were a good guy or a bad guy. He sat there and indulged me, smiling and making comments where he could.

 When Grandpa Keller died, my life changed. His was the first death I ever had to deal with. I was shielded from it. I did not go to the visitation or the funeral. My family was worried that it would lead to nightmares. They wanted me to remember him with the memories I had of his life..and not memories of how he appeared in death.

 He was a kind, patient and loving. He was gentle and tender. He was hard working. In short, he was everything a man should strive to be. My Grandmother always said he was the perfect father; something I am sure my Aunt Penny would agree with. As as for a great-grandfather, he was so sweet. His hugs were full of emotion and they provided the exact type of emotional security blanket that every child should have and deserve.

 It would not be until years later that I learned that Grandpa Keller was an amateur writer. In his later years, he wrote poetry and short stories. He even gave his hand to drawing and captioning cartoons. All for his pleasure and ultimately the pleasure of his family. I began writing short stories on an old 1932 Royal typewriter when I was about 8-years-old. I had no idea Grandpa Keller and I shared a love of the written word until years later. And when I did learn of that connection, it really meant something to me.

 Harry Keller was an amazing man. The only regret I have involving him is that he and I did not get to have more time together.

Brian’s Blog: Memories Of Katrina

 Today, while working in my home office, I came across a picture that I have not seen in about 7 years or so.

 That picture shows me and my former KLAS-HD co-worker Dave Courvoisier, standing in the middle of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. We were there three weeks after Hurricane Katrina had lashed the region with harsh, high winds and a massive amount of water.

 I remember getting the assignment to go to New Orleans. It was about 3PM on a Friday afternoon and my managing editor, Eric Hulnick, walked out of his office and over to my newsroom cubicle. He asked me if I wanted to go to New Orleans to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I told him I would be willing to go. I asked him when I would leave and he told me “11:30 tonight”.

 The trip to New Orleans ended up being about an 18 hour affair. Because conditions in the Big Easy were still far from normal, we could not fly directly into the New Orleans airport. What ended up happening was a flight for me from Las Vegas to Dallas, Texas. Then another flight to Jackson, Mississippi. Then a long drive from Jackson into New Orleans. 

 I ended up covering the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. Though our satellite truck and base of operations were in New Orleans. So every day, myself and photojournalist Mark Mutchler would make the drive from New Orleans to the Mississippi gulf region (we centered mainly on Biloxi and Pascaguala) and then we would drive back to New Orleans, edit our stories together and beam them back to Las Vegas. We did this for about 10 days.

This picture was taken in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana in September of 2005. It features me and KLAS-HD anchor/reporter Dave Courvoisier. We were both assigned to the region. He covered New Orleans. I covered the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

 I have said this before and I will say it again: covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the best and worst experience of my professional life.

 It was the best because there was a never-ending story to tell. A disaster of this magnitude is (thankfully) rare and to be able to be right in the middle of it was the equivalent to a master’s degree in on-site, real life, impactful journalism.

 But it was also the worst experience of my life because of the sheer volume of human suffering. Our days were filled with interviewing people who were in tears, shell shocked by what had happened to their lives. The destruction was mind blowing. I would stand in the middle of what had been a neighborhood and I would turn 360 degrees and everything was destroyed. In many cases, areas had been wiped completely clean. The only thing left behind was the cement slab where their homes had been. But in other cases, there was debris left behind. And what left behind looked as if it had been the victim of some type of bomb. Walls of homes had been peeled away like some type of wooden banana; just turned back by what had to have been a force of unimaginable power.

 There were signs on property, with all sorts of different sayings.

 “The South shall rise again.”
 “You loot, I shoot.”
 “Katrina, you won’t win.”

 Which I was in Mississippi, Las Vegas Metro Police volunteered some officers to work in the region and help overworked local cops….many of whom were also victims of Katrina. One of those police officers shocked me one night. I was interviewing him and I asked him what his time in Mississippi had taught him. I don’t remember his name but I will always remember what he told me. He looked at me and with a real wisdom, he said to me;

 “Don’t let Katrina steal your soul.”

 He said it with all the conviction of a pastor on a Sunday morning. It was something he had come to know from working in this area. And it was something I realized as well.

 One night, as the sun set on Biloxi, Mississippi, I surveyed my surroundings. Everything around me was bent and broken. Debris was still in the streets. You could smell stagnant water that had yet to evaporate. We also smelled what I am sure what the stench of death; people who had tried to ride the storm out and paid with their lives. It felt like the end of the world. But what I told myself on that night was, unless something catastrophic happened, the sun would rise in the morning. And those who had survived had a choice: to go on and find a way to resume their lives…or their could let Katrina steal their soul.

Brian’s Blog: Good-Bye, Gary Waddell

 There are some people who were simply born to be television news anchors. I don’t know if I am one of them or not, but I know for a fact Gary Waddell was.

 Gary’s name may not be familiar to you, but to the people of Southern Nevada, whether they have lived there for years or are new to the area, Gary Waddell is a trusted man.

 For more than three decades, he has held the anchor chair at KLAS-HD in Las Vegas. That is saying something no matter what your profession, but it is especially saying something in the world of TV news, which can be fickle at best and cruel at worst. Gary has held his own for that long not because of luck but because of his amazing skills as a communicator.

 I arrived at KLAS in the Summer of 2003. For a boy from the heart of Iowa, Las Vegas was a bit of a change to say the least. But what I quickly discovered was while most of Las Vegas was built on flash, KLAS was built on substance. And it was built on substance in large part because Gary Waddell was there.

 I have a confession to make. I do not have much patience. I want to get things done well but done quickly. And early on in my time at KLAS, Gary would slow me down. He would ask me questions about my story. He would look through my scripts word by word and ask me to clarify or improve what I had written. It got under my skin terribly and he must have noticed one day because he looked at me and said “Brian, I just want you to be better”. From that moment on, he had me. Whatever Gary wanted me to do, I would do. No questions asked. I trusted him. And his work made me better, both as a reporter and as a news anchor.

 But Gary Waddell is so much more than just a face on television. He is one of the most caring and compassionate people I have ever met. And it is a good thing that I am typing this in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and not trying to say any of this to his face…because I am not sure I could get through it and I am not sure he would allow me to say it. He is gracious in his mannerisms and never thinks of himself as anything special or different. Well Gary, I hope you  get to see this, because for the record…you are special and you are different.

 Over time, Gary and I found we shared similar traits and backgrounds. We both started our careers in radio. We were both from the American heartland, I from Iowa and he from Nebraska. We both valued good, crisp writing and compelling storytelling. And as I was able to watch him work, I like to think some of what he did rubbed off on me. Though I know right now that I will never be as good as he is.

This is a screen grab featuring Gary Waddell and myself from KLAS-HD in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 I always wanted to do good work while I was at KLAS. I have always worked under the philosophy that if people are good enough to spend some time watching you, you should give them something good to watch…something of quality. But while I always had the viewers interests in mind, I also became aware of something else: I never wanted my work to disappoint Gary. Or Paula Francis. Or Dave Courvoisier. Or anyone at KLAS.

 The biggest cliché in the world is to say that the people at your workplace are like a family. But I am telling you, that is how it was when I worked at KLAS. And the head of that family was Gary Waddell. When he would compliment my work, it meant the world to me. And when he told me I fell short, while he would do it as gently as possible, it would eat away at me.

 The reason I am writing about Gary tonight is that tomorrow, Friday, August 3rd, 2012….Gary will anchor his final newscasts on KLAS. He is planning to go into retirement. He has said that he finds the attention over his retirement embarrassing and that he simply just wanted to fade away into the past. That is something that could never happen. What Gary needs to know is that he has touched thousands of lives. Of course he has been a constant, steady hand for the people of Southern Nevada. But Gary needs to know as well, without any doubt, that he has also touched the lives of all the people he has worked with. He has made all of them better: anchors, reporters, producers, photographers…all of us. He taught without openly teaching. We learned from him without realizing it at the time. He contains a patience which all of us could use but few of us have.

Getting to share the anchor desk with Gary Waddell was a thrill. I never felt worthy. He also told me that he thought I was a good anchor.

 Tomorrow, when Gary Waddell signs off for the final time, I will not be in Las Vegas. I will be in a newsroom at KSFY in Sioux Falls, working to prepare and anchor my own newscasts. But I can think of no better tribute to Gary than doing that; producing a newscast of quality…one that people can trust. But I will tell you that my heart will be in Las Vegas.

 Gary Waddell, you are an amazing man. I am such a better person for having known you. Thank you so much for believing in me. You don’t know what it meant to me.