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Wiebel weaved 'a complex web of simplicity'

January 14, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

People are like magnets.

Some attract and others repel.

Those who attract are easy to find. People flock to them. Everyone enjoys spending time with them. They are the people you want in your life.

They are the North Pole of friendships because they are positively charged.

Everyone should be lucky enough to meet someone like that in a lifetime just for the quiet, nonjudgemental charge they provide.

We all lost one of those social magnets when Russ Wiebel passed away late last week. Russ, a lifelong resident and longtime broadcaster in this area, passed away on Thursday at age 79 from complications after surgery.

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Russ was one of the most "attractive" people you'd ever want to know. Say that to him, and he'd remind you that he was no Brad Pitt. But he had a knack of having a nurturing, calm, cool head with an opinion that was always respected.

He wasn't a politician, rock star, religious leader or world famous celebrity who commanded attention. Yet most everyone knew him. He was famous in his own way.

He was a moral compass that always seemed to point in the right direction. He was unpretentious and unassuming when it came to seeing his impact, yet he was someone who was so much more well-known than he would believe. He was so good at it, in fact, that many people probably knew of Russ and his contributions to life in this area without even knowing it.

And to be honest, Russ was a complex web of simplicity.

He was humble, honest and caring. He was genuine.

He was a husband, father and a son first and fortified his stay on this earth by becoming a surrogate dad to so many youthful athletes in this area. He was the one dependable person who went to see so many kids compete, genuinely cheering them on with the help of a radio signal. He believed in the good in the youth of America and chose to broadcast their successes to prove they were out there.

He loved sports. He played sports. He coached sports. And he talked sports.

He was a helping hand who believed the concepts of "you" and "we" in the "Me" Generation.

He spent his life as a postman, a coach, an official and a broadcaster with a determination to be good at them all that made him a self-made man.

He was class. Russ would hate to hear this but he could be considered a pioneer, an institution, a legend and an icon for local sports broadcasting in this area.

He loved his family, particularly his wife Helen, and his family loved him. He cherished his friends and his friends cherished him.

And all that made him who he was. All that rolled together made him Russ - simple and honest.

He accidentally fell into the broadcast profession nearly 50 years ago when he was hired to read sports on a fledgling radio station labeled WHAG. He turned the gig - using a lot of determination and effort - into a local stage to broadcast and support youth sports.

For 40 years, spanning some 453 local football games through the 45th North-South game, he was the radio voice who promoted youth sports to multiple generations of Washington Countians.

Russ didn't do that for fame, glory, advancement or fortune. He often used the excuse that broadcasting the games kept him feeling young. He wasn't trying for a big-money contract to leave the area. He did it for the kids.

He did it many times without being paid for his efforts. He just made sure he could pay for the time he needed on WJEJ 1240's airwaves.

In those times, Russ and Helen were known as Dad and Mom Wiebel. That was payment enough.

For me, "Dad Wiebel" slipped into my life in the most innocent of ways. I met Russ in the early 1990s when he needed a substitute guest on his Sportsline show, a 45-minute broadcast on Monday nights that encouraged listeners to call, but the phone usually remained quiet.

It became our forum to sit down and talk sports to whoever would listen. Over the course of about 13 years, we were the Laurel and Hardy of sports on the local station. It went on until Russ decided it was time to hang it up on April 1, 2002. The show on WJEJ wasn't a gold mine, but Russ found a way to slip me a couple of bucks for gas money.

In that time, I came to know Russ - along with Helen and his stepson Robert, who helped with his broadcasts - like family.

We played golf. He read my work and commented on it. We would run into each other at games during his broadcasts and talk during halftime.

He became my North Pole.

When my father passed away 11 1/2 years ago, I got the feeling he passed his torch to Russ. That's because Russ always seemed to be there in his unassuming ways to help and counsel. He celebrated with me at my wedding and he consoled me during my divorce.

When my dad died, I questioned why it happened. I couldn't understand why he died without making a lasting mark on the world. I learned quickly my father's life had its own unique legacy.

And now with the passing of Russ, I will experience it again.

In a cruel way, a true measure of a man is realized at his funeral.

That is when his family and friends, old and new, from far and near, gather to honor him. They get together and begin telling old stories about the things he did to make this life a little bit better.

They laugh.

They cry.

They remember.

They long for his return.

Russ may have been just a local sports broadcaster, but he left a little bit of himself in so many people in Washington County through his work and his contributions.

And those are the things that make magnets like Russ Wiebel stick with us for a lifetime.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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