By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Thirty years ago this week, I moved to Iowa City and haven’t left.
My first week on the job at the Iowa City Press-Citizen in June 1991 was also Bump Elliott’s last week as the Iowa Men’s Athletic Director.
I remember asking Bump a few years later if it were a coincidence, and he said “no comment” with a sly grin.
Bump was such a good person, humble, caring and beloved by so many.
That’s what 30 years in the same place does to you.
The longer you stay in one place, the more attached you get to your surroundings, and to the people around you.
Bump Elliott is part of a long and distinguished list of people who helped or inspired me along the way, but that are no longer with us.
People like Jim Zabel, Bob Brooks, Al Grady, George Wine, John Raffensperger, Kenny Arnold, Bump’s son Bobby Elliott, and of course, Hayden Fry.
They all have impacted my life in ways they never could’ve imagined.
Just being able to listen to their stories, and to be in their presence was an honor and a privilege.
The time I spoke with radio legend Bob Brooks about what it was like to cover Willie Fleming is a moment I’ll remember forever.
It had been nearly a half century since Fleming had played running back for Iowa’s 1958 Rose Bowl champion team when Brooks and I spoke, and yet, Brooks painted such a clear picture with his words and wisdom to where I could picture Fleming making defenders miss.
Brooks, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 89, also told fascinating stories about covering Iowa football during the Forest Evashevski years in the 1950s, and I was fortunate to have spent seven seasons covering Iowa football under Hayden Fry with Brooks as part of the media landscape.
I didn’t know Brooks when I started covering the Iowa beat in 1992, and I was nervous during most of our early conversations because, well, he was Bob Brooks and I was just some young punk trying to fit in.
But Brooks helped me fit in by taking time to speak with me, and by educating me about the Hawkeyes.
He embraced our conversations because he was a good person, and because he loved talking about Hawkeye history.
Jim Zabel, on the other hand, I knew quite well before covering the Iowa beat because I grew up just two blocks from where he lived in Des Moines, a section on the northwest side of town called Beaverdale.
Zabel was good friends with my parents, and he sort took me under his wing, when I started covering the Hawkeyes.
Zabel and former Iowa State football coach Jim Walden used to do a radio show in which I was a frequent guest.
Walden once asked Zabel on the air why he kept having me as a guest, and Zabel laid it on extra thick about how he respected me as a journalist and that I was on top of everything from a news and rumor standpoint.
And while I obviously appreciated the kind words, one of the biggest reasons Zabel had me as a frequent guest was because of our friendship, and because he liked and respected my parents.
There were other journalists on the beat who knew as much or more than I did.
Zabel’s death on May 23, 2013 at the age of 91 was a sad day for me, and for my family, because he meant so much to us.
I had planned for a while to write a column marking my 30 years in Iowa City, but wasn’t sure what angle to take.
And then I just started thinking about all the people who have impacted my journey in a positive way, and was reminded that so many of them are gone.
George Wine was the Iowa Sports Information Director from 1968-93, so we didn’t work together for very long on the beat.
But I got to know George after he retired, and relied on his knowledge and experience to cover the beat, and to help put things in perspective.
His death in 2012 at the age of 81 came as a surprise because I didn’t see it coming, and because George alwyas had been so full of life.
It was the same with Al Grady, who had left the newspaper business by the time I moved to Iowa City in 1991, but still wrote a column for the Voice of the Hawkeyes.
Al Grady was a local legend whose passion for Hawkeye sports endeared him to so many.
To interview Al Grady was like traveling on a time machine because he had seen and covered Hawkeye sports for over a half century and his memory was incredible.
His death in 2003 was a huge blow to so many.
The death of former Iowa basketball player Kenny Arnold in 2019 at the age of 59 was yet another sad moment for me, and for countless Iowa fans.
I didn’t get to know Kenny until late in his life, but just a little of Kenny’s power and influence goes a long way, and his legacy will live on forever. The way Kenny fought to stay alive despite his failing health took so much courage and toughness, and the help from so many friends and former college teammates.
When I think of Kenny Arnold, I think of friendship and loyalty, because according to his former college teammates, you couldn’t have a better friend than Kenny Arnold. Life was cruel to Kenny, and yet, he still lived with grace and dignity, and never said why me, or felt sorry for himself.
Bobby Elliott also has a special place in my heart because he always treated me with so much kindness and respect.
One story that comes to mind is when Hayden Fry took exception to a column I had written in my first year on the beat in 1992. I had implied in the column that Fry was being less than truthful about the playing status of Willie Guy, and needless to say, Fry became upset.
Fry then called me out at his weekly press conference and that became the news for the day.
Later that night, I received a call from Bobby Elliott in which he told me to keep my head up, and that this would blow over because Hayden didn’t hold grudges.
That call meant so much to me, and I still remember hanging up the phone, taking a deep breath and saying thank you. I also remember crying the day Bobby Elliott died of cancer in 2017 at the age of just 64.
Bobby Elliott was also right about Hayden Fry in that he didn’t hold a grudge.
It was a privilege to have covered Hayden Fry for seven seasons from 1992-98.
He made it fun. He made it interesting. And he made Iowa a winner when many thought it was beyond reach.
Fry’s legend stretched far beyond football, though, as he also broke the color barrier in the Southwest Conference by recruiting Jerry LeVias to Southern Methodist University in the mid-1960s.
I became emotional after learning that Fry had passed away on Dec. 17, 2019 at the age of 90. I knew the day was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier.
John Raffensperger’s death in 2019 at the age of 78 was another dark moment.
I moved to Iowa City during the early stages of what would become a track and field dynasty under Raffensperger at Iowa City High. I had the privilege of covering most of City High’s state titles under Raffensperger and we became friends.
He then became a volunteer assistant in track and field at Iowa under former Little Hawk Joey Woody, and Raffensperger often would tell me that Iowa was destined for greatness.
Iowa has since won three Big Ten titles in men’s track and field since 2019, so Raffensperger wasn’t just blowing smoke.
The day that Susan Denk passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in August, 2014 at the age of 39 was also devastating. Susan covered Iowa football for the Burlington Hawkeye, and there wasn’t a nicer or more humble and down to earth person on the beat.
Susan used to make the best cookies and brownies and would bring them to the home games to share with her colleagues in the Kinnick Stadium press box.
She was such a good person, and died way too soon.
So as I look back at the past 30 years covering Iowa Hawkeye athletics, I think about all the good people who helped me along the way, but that are no longer with us.
Thanks to all of you, and RIP.