Farewell to my First Coach – My Dad, My Hero

Dad was my lighthouse, guiding me ashore when lost in life’s stormy sea. He died on August 8, 2022 just nine days shy of his 91st birthday. Without him I drift bereft.

My dad and I shared a special bond made stronger through a love of sports and our fierce determination to overcome obstacles.

My athleticism was a genetic gift; my fighting spirit part of the McKinzie bloodline.

Growing up, I never appreciated his athletic talents. He never boasted about his own accolades, but was always the first to applaud others’ achievements.

As a college athlete at Northern Illinois State University, he was a 3 sport division I athlete and MVP in 2 major sports. He was inducted into the NIU hall of fame three times, as an individual player and as a team member in the 1951 football and baseball teams. He was part of the NIU Century Basketball Team and Decade “50’s” football team.  As a coach, he was also inducted into the Sterling High School Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame.

But he remained humble. His passion lay in helping others achieve their goals. He impacted countless young lives in his role as an educator, coach, and mentor.

He will be remembered for his kindness, generosity, tolerance, humor and compassion for the underdog. He treated everyone equally regardless of class, age, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation or gender identity. He also advocated for women’s right to participate in sports in the infancy of Title IX.

Fondly remembered as ‘Papa Mac’ for leading his daughter Karen and her “Golden Girl” teammates to the first girls State Basketball Championship in 1977, he also guided the 1979 third place and 1980 Elite 8 girls state basketball teams.

And he coached me.

At a time when women’s sports was taboo, his guidance made me an outstanding pioneer basketball player — one of the 1st female athletic scholarship recipients at Illinois State University, professional players in the USA and American women to play in Europe.
In one of our last visits, we reminisced about the hours we spent shooting baskets. I re-enacted how he taught me to drop into 3 point football stance and run a v-slant pattern with my fingertips stretched to the sky, ready to catch his perfect spiral pass.

“You also taught me how to swing a baseball bat, serve a volleyball, swish a hook shot!”

“I betcha I taught you all the ball games,” dad said and chuckled.

“You also showed me how to balance a check book, change a flat tire, catch a fish, ride a bike, drive a car.”

“You were a good learner,” he told me.

“You were the best teacher.”

Just ask his former campers at Camp Neyati Wisconsin or the hundreds of students and athletes whose lives he touched in his 35 year teaching/coaching — basketball, football, baseball, track — career. He served as a pillar of the community, a brick in the foundation of Sterling High School.

My dad, a man of integrity, walked the talk. He saw the best in each of us and then coached it out of us.

How many of his former students and athletes went on to dedicate their lives to teaching and coaching?

Like my grandfather, and my father, when my playing career ended, I became an ambassador of the game. I guided athletes on the global arena teaching and coaching 33 yrs in Europe. I passed on not only dad’s basketball expertise, but also his philosophy of life.

In a ripple effect, my dad’s ethos — honesty, acceptance and fair play — echoed around the world when my former international players returned to their passport countries to advocate for social justice.

Dad, I wish I could play my guitar for you one last time.

“I can’t sing on key to save my life,” dad would say as he whistled along.

You may not have had a musical bone in your body, dad, but your life was a rhapsody. Your spirit united the chorus of humanity.

You were a gifted artist.

Whether teaching city boys to appreciate nature at Camp Neyati, counseling teens on the playing fields and in the classrooms, painting landscapes for loved ones, or writing a letters of encouragement, your work comforted us all.

A hug from you could lift a soul for a lifetime.

As I reflect back on how hard it was to stand after my accidents, I hear your voice inspiring me to walk again. Whenever I hike the Swiss mountains or wander Wisconsin’s Northwoods, I remember you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Every breath I take, every step I make, every word I speak, every kindness I share, I think of you.

Your light shines eternally as we offer our guidance to the next generation while whistling your song in our hearts.

You left the best kind of legacy.

Your love lives on.

A Memorial Service will be hosted on Sunday, August 28th at the Schilling Funeral Home in Sterling (visitation11-2 PM and service 2 PM.)   In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations be made in his name to Jim & Lenore McKinzie Scholarship Fund care of Sterling-Rock Falls Community Trust, (Midland States Bank, 302 1st Ave, Sterling, Il 61081) to help a deserving student going into education or to the  Sterling Schools Foundation (510 East Miller Rd, Sterling, Il 61081 www.sterlingschoolsfoundation.org

Cards to Lenore McKinzie 1424 W. 21st St. 61081 Sterling, IL USA

Bittersweet Pain Saying Goodbye to Family Home

How do you say goodbye to the house you fell in love with at first sight, where you raised a family, enjoyed a career, and appreciated the view outside each window?

We watched the sun rise over the Alps from the bedroom and living room and saw it set behind the Jura Mountains from the guest room and kitchen.

Here, we endured a quarter of a century of job pressures, personal losses, individual triumphs, petty arguments, home improvement projects.

We watched our children grow up shooting baskets in front of the carport and throwing footballs in the backyard across from golden rape seed fields. We commemorated birthdays and holidays, celebrated championships and graduations, and turned every visit from family and friends into a party.

We savored French favorites dining in front of winter fires and relished summer backyard barbecues, watching sailboats drift across the lake and the clouds float over the mountain range in the ever changing light.

Like our son said, “if only you could take the view with you.”

We sang and danced and played our way through our children’s growing up years. We read the Bernstein Bears, BoxCar Children, and Babysitter Club with grade schoolers, listened to Backstreet Boys and Beyonce with preteens, and watched Friends and The Wire with high schoolers.

When the kids went outside to play on the paved paths intersecting the farmers’ fields, we knew they could ride scooters, bikes and roller blade safely without the danger of speeding cars and deadly guns.

Many years ago, we boxed up the Electric Train Set, Play Mobile Toys, and Beanie Babies to donate. Instead they gathered dust under the stairwell because we could not bear to part with them.

In the process of packing up, we discovered memories tucked away in every attic nook, closet shelf and basement cupboards.

Our house, a compact twin, built on 3 levels, was big enough to store them all.

It was a quirky place. The master bathroom, bigger than the kitchen, had purple bathroom tiles and a tub big enough to swim in. Fifteen stairs between each flight kept us so fit, we never needed to join a health club. The hallway upstairs, which held 3 book shelves, was wide enough for a dining table

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We never interior decorated. Yet each photograph and painting held special significance. Dad’s clown face paintings brightened the kids room and his landscapes enlightened the living room. Mom’s cross stitched wall hanging and homemade curtains made us think of family far away.

Cutlery, wine glasses and cooking-ware from Gerald’s folks, along with traditional French recipes, reminded us that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

I’ll never forget walking down the stairs from our bedroom and greeting Mt. Blanc every morning or seeing our son sliding across the hallway in his stocking feet every night.

I will always remember hollering downstairs to wake up our teenage daughter, who adored the independence of a basement room, like I once did.

The sound of a basketball bouncing outside my kitchen window became the background beat measuring our days.

We bid farewell not only to a house, but to our neighborhood, to our international school, to the time of our lives when so much happened, so fast, we wish could turn back time for a moment just once to sit the bench for one more ball game.

It’s been a good house.

It sheltered our souls from crushing setbacks, helped us endure painful transitions, warmed our hearts with good times and gave us the space to learn to forgive and go forward.

Here, we survived heartbreaks and disappointments. We healed from a broken collar bone, an ankle, 2 fingers and umpteen sprains, and recovered illness - pneumonia, mononucleous,viruses. We recovered from accidents, learned to get back up and to keep going.

Our house offered comfort and warmth, shelter and shade.

How do you say goodbye to the home that shaped you?

You don’t. You take it with you.

Every memory, every souvenir, every remembrance.

Cancer Stole My Friend Too Soon

My friend died last weekend. My heart is heavy. Christine was such a beautiful soul. Thoughtful, kind, warmhearted. Far too young to part already. She leaves behind 3 children - beautiful reflections of herself -whom I had the privilege of teaching.

Cancer crept up insidiously. She had shortness of breath. She felt run down.

Aren’t all dedicated teachers?

She left school one day for a doctor’s appointment; she never came back to class. Instead she went to war in the cancer ward. The diagnosis. The deception. The despair. The carnage. The crusade.

She fought her battle against leukemia so gallantly. After the first rounds of hospitalizations and chemotherapy, she went into remission. When cancer reared its ugly head again, she returned to battle. Her sister selflessly donated her bone marrow for a replacement. More hospitalizations. More isolation. More pain. More anxiety. More anguish.

How hard to believe you are getting better when your body weakens from the endless fight?

All that effort bought her a little more time before she succumbed to an infection that attacked her heart. Her heart. Her generous, loving heart.

Who among us has never lost a loved one to disease?

Cancer is especially cruel. It attacks the self. It can only be beat-sometimes just temporarily - by knocking out the immune system leaving the victim vulnerable to the very air breathed.

She left us with a bittersweet reminder we only have today. And treasured memories.

I have so many. She once baked my favorite carrot cake and brought it to our department meeting for my birthday. When I couldn’t drive, she picked me and took me to one of my retirement parties. Years later, wearing a knitted cap to hide her bald head, she swooped in to carry me off for coffee where we lamented our fight to survive.

After my brain surgery, I looked to her for inspiration. I saw how hard she fought with so much grace and dignity. I thought if she can prevail, so can I. And so we faced another day.

Until we didn’t.

Now she is no longer here. A good person gone too soon. I never had the chance to say goodbye.

She lent me books and lesson plans, shared smiles and stories, offered rides and meals. She gave me laughter and joy.

She brightened my days.

Now I mourn for her children, her husband, her sister, her parents, her colleagues and friends, all who feel her passing as an ache that will not subside.

I miss her already.

Rest in peace dear friend.

You left behind the best kind of legacy.

You were greatly loved.

Happy 90th Birthday to my Pioneer Dad

If I pursued a career unheard of for women, moved abroad and rewrote my script after my dream collapsed in an accident, it is because of you, my pioneer dad, who believed in me every step of the way.

I inherited the McKinzie iron will, a drive to pursue lofty ideals in spite of obstacles.

In the controversial years of Title IX’s infancy, when girls and ball games were non compatible entities, your adamant belief in women’s right to participate in sports would empower all your daughters. Especially me.

Fifty years ago, dads teaching daughters jump shots were anomalies. Fathers discouraged daughters from playing ball games society deemed unladylike.

Yet, you fought for equal rights and shaped values in the athletes you mentored during your 33-year career at Sterling High School where you earned the affectionate title of Papa Mac while racking up Illinois’ 1st ever girls state basketball championship title, a 3rd place finish and an Elite Eight appearance. But what made you proudest was seeing how your athletic “daughters” grew up to contribute to society as principals, teachers and leading members of their communities.

No one felt your influence more greatly than me. When my slender frame took a beating on basketball courts at ever elite levels, you never said, “You’re too small to go pro.” Instead you helped develop my potential. When my American pro team folded, I stated, “I’m going to France to play.”

“What if you get hurt?” You tried your darnest to dissuade me. Then after the shock subsided, you offered your support and returned to the gym to rebound.

When I announced, “I’m engaged to a Frenchman,” you were the first to accept a foreigner into the family and remained my most faithful correspondent, sending manila envelopes to Europe. Rather than disowning me, you sacrificed time and money to make 18 trips across the Atlantic to be part of your gandchildren’s lives.

Though you never visited Scotland, the home of your fore-bearers, it is as if clan bloodlines transcended generations. Like your father and forefathers, you became a leader of men and women. You taught us a code of honor, respect for our fellowman, and fierce loyalty toward family.

Our resilient constitution, strength of character, love of nature, and reverence for honest work may have been virtues passed on from our ancestry, but we developed them by modeling your behavior in a life where you treated everyone equal.

As the head of our McKinzie clan, you set the finest example of what it means to be an honorable leader, a strong chief, and a benevolent father.

I grew up during an era when athletic girls felt shunned without role models. You encouraged me to be myself even when it meant being different and pursuing a career usually sought by men.

It was not easy being a modern day daughter, marrying a Frenchman and raising children abroad. Nor was it easy to be an up-to-date dad, whose dedicated coaching developed the talent that took his daughter away.

I was a selfish, smart-aleck kid; you were too overprotective. You grew up under the “work ethic” when it was a man’s world, only, yet you learned to accept a modern, do-it-herself daughter who lived by the “experience ethic.”

You leaned right; I left. Too much alike in temperament and too different in ideologies to always get along, yet our differences, spurred growth. I loved you enough to let you be a blundering father. You let me be a belligerent daughter. Through headstrong outbursts, we learned to compromise, to live modern dreams without losing old-fashioned values.

You were not a perfect dad, nor I, a perfect daughter. But our love was.

You taught me to shoot a jump shot, swim a lake, drive a car, balance a checkbook, but the greatest lesson I learned from you was “never give up!”

Thirty-five years ago, that fighting spirit helped me recover from a career ending, near fatal car accident 4,000 miles away from home. More recently that same resiliency helped me survive a life altering fall that resulted in a broken cheek bone, eye socket, jaw, nose and skull that led to a 5 hour brain surgery and over a year of rehabilitation. With no end in sight.

I may never play my guitar, type a blog post or swim again pain free.

Everyday as I struggled in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm, and walk without stumbling I think of you and repeat the mantra you ingrained through hours of practice spent correcting my jump shot, “Keep fighting!”

Every night when I called you reminded me,“I am proud of you sweetie.”

And you ended every conversation with these words,

“I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Me too, dad, me too.

Happy Birthday to my 90 year old hero!

Sophie Giraffe Favorite French Toy Turns 60

The little red Radio Flyer wagon, Lincoln logs, Matchbox cars each generation had their favorite toys, but the all time favorite French toy is Sophie la giraffe

May 25th, 2021 on St.Sophie Day, Sophie La Girafe turns 60.

Vulli, a company based in Rumilly in the Haute-Savoie region of France, not far from where we live outside of Geneva, has kept the highly guarded secret of how Sopie la Girafe is made. The rubber, used by Vulli to make Sophie, comes exclusively from the hevea trees growing in Malaysia.

Surprisingly such a simple toy has a complex process of production. To create Sophie la girafe, Vulli first heats the latex using a special process involving a technique called "rotomoulding" and then performs a series of 14 manual operations, which are still used today..
Unlike modern toys, which do everything except cook dinner and change nappies, and may be too sophisticated to foster learning, Sophie, a teething toy, was designed to stimulate all 5 senses from the babies’ age of 3 months.

Though Sophie’s squeaker may drive parents crazy, the sound the giraffe makes when squeezed stimulates the baby’s hearing and helps him to understand the link between cause and effect.
The giraffe’s dark spots captures baby's eyesight, which is still limited in the early months, and can only make out high contrasts.

Developed from latex, made from the natural rubber of the Hevea tree, Sophie has a distinct scent which makes the giraffe easy for babies to identify amongst other toys.
At an age when baby puts everything in her mouth, Sophie, made of 100% natural rubber, was a toy designed to chew. Akin to the nipple of a feeding-bottle, Sophie’s soft textured, chewable ears, horns, and legs makes her perfect for soothing baby's sore gums during teething.

Sophie’s texture feels soft, like baby's mother's skin, which stimulates physiological and emotional responses that soothe the baby and promote healthy growth and well-being.
Her shape - long legs and neck and her size, 18cm - makes it easy for baby to grip.

When my children were babies, Sophie was their favorite toy, so when I gave one to my niece, Marie, when she was born and it became her beloved toy.

When Marie had her first baby, Hadley, I sent her a Sophie original from France. But Hadley’s grandma, my sister Karen, beat me to it. Sophie la Girafe is no longer found only in France, she can be purchased in 80 different countries and is sold at your nearest Target.

Sophie’s, popularity, which once spread by word of mouth, has now reached sales of over 50 million. She has become such a commercial success that she has her own brand, website and blog.

Like all celebrities, Sophie even joined a good cause and partnered with Girafe Conservation Foundation (GFS) to conserve the future for giraffes in Africa

Sophie la girafe, timeless and cross generational, loved by parents and children alike, still brings baby biggest smiles.

Walk in Nature – Rejuvenate Brain Power, Lift Mood, Improve Health

 

Remember when our mothers used to throw us out of the house commanding, “Go out and play!”: we spent the day climbing trees, making mud pies and inventing games.” Well, they were right all along. We grew strong, healthy and resilient.

Scientific research shows that you need to get back outside. Walking in nature may benefit not only your heart and lungs, but also your brain.

Studies back what humans once knew knew instinctively. Norman Doidge, MD, notes in his fascinating bestseller, The Brain that Changes Itself, that nature and staying active help the brain stave off dementia, ward off depression and heal from injury.

Physical exercise and learning work in complementary ways: the first to make new stem cells, the second to prolong their survival.

Not only does physical activity create new neurons, but exercise also strengthens the heart and blood vessels that supply oxygen to the brain helping you feel mentally alert.

Humans were not designed to live in a world of cement, artificial screens and sounds.

“This artificiality is draining our brains and damaging our health,” nature writer Professor David Gessner explains, “some scientists would say technology is slowly ruining our lives.

One US study by Harvard and Stanford researchers shows how workplace related stress can significantly reduce life expectancy. The link between low stress and longevity is well established.

The Swiss, the second most active people in Europe after the Swedish, have one of world’s longest life expectancy. Forty-four percent of Swiss exercise several times a week and 92% are motivated to move by getting in contact with nature.

Not everyone, like the Swiss, enjoy the privilege of living in a mountainous and lake regions. Nor can everyone be located on coastal sea areas.

But even the American Midwest offers accessibility to nature. Minnesota - land of 10,000 lakes - offers miles of paved trails. Minneapolis-St Paul is known as one of the nations best metropolitan areas for biking/hiking. Escape to Wisconsin lives up to it’s motto as being a great get away for its lakes and forests.

The Chicago Park District owns more than 8,800 acres of green space, making it the largest municipal park manager in the nation.

Anyone living in the Cleveland area should contact my brother, who could have 2nd career as tour guide. He can find you a beautiful walking, hiking and running areas within a 20 mile radius of the city and give you directions how to get there.

National and state parks and nature reserves abound across America. Even smaller communities boast of green space, like Sterling, Illinois where I grew up, which has 20 different parks, including a favorite Sinnissippi.

Unfortunately not all of us have the ability to walk. If that is no longer an option, ask your loved one to take you to a park where you can sit on a bench and benefit from listening to the wind in trees, watching the birds and feeling the sunshine on your face.

Those of us who can - must keep moving. My mom maintains her routine by taking steps for friends who no longer can. My dad keeps trudging along with his walker by setting daily goals to walk to the corner. And through diligent practice, I learned to regain balance, step forward without stumbling and swing my immobile left arm again after brain injury.

What’s holding you back? Get outside and shake that booty!