Three weeks ago, Amy Jennings, Eric Olmscheid, Emily Abbas, and I were invited by Des Moines Register business writer Lynn Hicks to take a tour through The Des Moines Register after a “14 People to Watch in 2014” panel at Capital Square. I had toured the new Register offices before (thanks to Josh Hafner), but I decided to go anyway, but for a more selfish reason. It was a chance to visit a couple of fellow Wartburg alums.
Randy Brubaker in particular, “Bru” as we called him.
As Waterloo natives and Wartburg guys, it was natural for the both of us to playfully needle each other about which school was better (I went to East, Randy went to West), what’s going on in Des Moines, the business of the news media, and more importantly, our love for Wartburg. You see, for those who may not understand small colleges in Iowa, schools like Wartburg are pretty special and unique in their own way. When it comes to Wartburg, the alumni are like a family. It’s a cliché, I know, but here’s the deal: there is so many Wartburg alums in Des Moines, we called ourselves the “Orange Mafia” or as I dubbed it “Wartburg South”.
Be it Outflys, school-sponsored gatherings, et cetera, we all show up…dressed in orange and black. The bond between Wartburgers is pretty strong. They’re friends for life, even if we’re 2,000 miles away.
Waterloo was another common bond that Randy and I shared. Waterloo is, what former Register Waterloo bureau chief Jack Hovelson described, a “Joe Six-Pack town.” It’s a blue-blooded industrial city, rooted in John Deere green. The both of us knew how Waterloo was growing up: racially diverse, amid socioeconomic issues, were among major factors of the makeup of the city. East and West High, to a certain level, embodies the competitive mindset that represents the city: the blue-collar east-siders vs. the white-collar west-siders. Black vs. white. Industrial vs. Professional.
Despite all of that, we were from Waterloo and we were damn proud of being from there. It was because we were in it together and learned how to live and do things together.
I broke away from the tour and stopped by Randy’s desk. He was coming back from the break room, with a small plate of fruit, cheese, and crackers. First thing I asked was “How are you doing?” It was important for me to ask him this. The past 5 months has been a difficult one for him. His wife, Jan, passed away in January. I went to the funeral. Randy and his two sons having to mourn a wife and mother. Dowling Catholic students mourning a loss of a counselor.
Randy said he was doing okay. He was happy that things started to slow down in the newsroom. During the early part of the week, the old downtown Younkers building fire was the major story for the Register. As senior news director, his job was to oversee the stories that were going to be printed (or put online).
Over the next 10 minutes, he described in details about the new Register webpage, how the newsroom “command control” operated (a long HD interactive board that had CNN, ESPN, Bloomburg, etc on streaming and the Register’s website live), and what Steph Boeding was up to over in Design Studio. Steph was another member of the “Orange mafia.”
Bru gave back to Wartburg, When I say he gave back, it wasn’t always money. He gave his time to students in Comm Arts, served on panels, offered advice, and helped students and graduates get their feet planted in the media business. Many who have established their own careers continue to call Bru for advice, bounce an idea off of him, or needing a little encouragement.
Well respected and admired in the Iowa media, when Bru offered his thoughts or ideas, people listen. Never one to be demonstrative or loud, Bru was the guy to talk to when a news story came up.
Randy emailed me on July 19, 2011, a week after I wrote a blog post marking the 30th anniversary of the slayings of Waterloo police officers Wayne Rice and Michael Hoing.
I thought your blog post about T-Bone Taylor and your family connection was interesting, so I passed the link on to Randy Evans, our editorial page editor to look at.
With your permission, he might be interested in publishing a version of that blog on the op-ed page. It might take a bit of collaboration/editing, of course.
If you’re interested, let me know – and I’ll pass your email address on to the “other” Randy so he can get in touch with you!
Randy passed the story idea along to Randy Evans. It didn’t move forward after that point, but as far as I was concerned, that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received…
…from a guy who runs the newsroom at the most widely read newspaper in the state of Iowa.
(Note: this past March, the suspect, Michael “T-Bone” Taylor, and one of the officers who captured him, Iowa State Patrolman Marvin Messerschmidt died within a week of each other.)
After we talked about how Wartburg baseball and softball were doing, Randy had to get back to work. We shook hands, give each other a big hug, and he said:
“How ’bout those Wahawks?”
I couldn’t help but to smile and laugh and playfully shouted “Whoo!” as I headed down the hall to join Lynn and the group. Bru had a big smile on his face. A West Wahawk getting the last word on an East High Trojan.
On the following Monday, a friend, Nathan Groepper, posted on Facebook that Bru had a heart attack. A stent was place where the blockage was at, and he went home to rest. Randy was expected back in the office on May 5, 2014….
That return has been postponed….permanently.
Randy passed away, from heart failure, on Saturday May 3rd.
That “selfish endeavor” to go up to visit him three weeks ago is one I will cherish. The look on his face, beaming when he saw me standing there at his desk, was all it took. I’m grateful I took that tour. I would have been kicking myself with regrets as I write this.
Sunday was a beautiful day outside, but it was not a happy day.
Bru is gone.
There are a lot of people, colleagues, mentees, friends, and alumni who are in mourning. Two sons have lost both of their parents in a span of 4 months.
Life isn’t fair. It has never meant to be fair, but damn, doesn’t have to be so unfair?
I lost one of my favorite guys and above all, a respected friend.