unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

A Gesture Endures

I interviewed former Chicago Blackhawks star, Jeremy Roenick, about his new book, J.R. My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey.  Toward the beginning of the book, he tells a great anecdote:

When I was seven years old, I went to a Hartford Whalers game, and Gordie Howe was playing for them.  A bunch of us would lean over the glass to get a better look as players skated in the pre-game warmup.  During one of his laps around his zone, Mr. Hockey scooped up some ice shavings and dumped them on my head as he skated by.  I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen–until a couple of seconds later, when Howe looked back and winked at me.

For three seconds, it was just me and Gordie Howe connecting.  That moment changed my life.  I felt like Gordie had given me a gift, and I wanted to pay it back.  When I arrived in the NHL, I made sure I connected with fans the way Gordie had taught me to do.

Imagine if you’re a young hockey fan like Roenick and one of the hockey gods literally picks you out of the crowd and anoints you with ice shavings…and then winks at you!  It’s easy to understand how that could have been a life-changer.  Roenick says that as a player he made it a point to always try to connect with kids, too, because he never knew what impact his gesture might have.  He said that over the years, he’s heard from many people who’ve said something like, “I’ll never forget when you did thus-and-such for my kid–it meant so much to him.”  That’s awesome in itself, but I think the story has another dimension.

I’m no huge hockey fan and although I have heard of Howe, I know relatively little about him.  But Roenick’s story makes me like Howe.  And you know that Roenick has told the story hundreds of times before including it in his book.  Howe’s small gesture had the unintended consequence of being a seed that sprouted many tellings — including this one–all to Howe’s credit.  A good lesson for all of us about what we ultimately sow.

You can read an excerpt from Roenick’s book and watch my interview with him here later tonight. And, if you want more? Watch my web-exclusive conversation with him here.

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Frida Kahlo…and Her Date With a Chicago Alderman???!!!

Frida Kahlo is a leading feminist art icon.  You’ve probably seen her self-portraits which feature her distinctive “unibrow” and facial hair.  One can argue that her reputation has now exceeded that of her famous muralist husband, Diego Rivera.  And if you’re aware of her, you’ve probably never thought of her in connection with any Chicago alderman.  The City Council has a reputation for many things, but I think it’s safe to say, not for feminist iconography or hobnobbing with exotic and historic, international cultural figures such as Frida.  And yet.

According to Neil Steinberg’s new book, You Were Never in Chicago, she had a date with someone who later became a Chicago alderman.  Okay, not just any alderman.

Hyde Park’s Leon Despres was alderman of the 5th ward from 1955 until 1975.  He was famous for being a thorn in the side of Mayor Richard J. Daley, was often the lone vote against him and was considered the city’s liberal conscience.  He worked on liberal causes well into his 90s and died when he was 101.

Steinberg writes that in 1937, Despres went to Mexico on a vacation and at the request of a friend, took a letter and a suitcase of clothing to Leon Trotsky, who was staying at Frida and Diego’s when things got sketchy for Trotsky back in Russia.  While there, Despres took Frida to the movies (a French film, of course.)  He told Steinberg, “She was very attractive, very pretty.  We had a good time.”

Imagine being able to say that about someone of Frida’s stature?  Imagine that brush with greatness?  Makes you wonder –when he was in the throes of his skirmishes with Daley on the floor of the City Council, did Despres ever think back to his date with that exotic and enigmatic woman?  Did he ever imagine her image would loom as large in the world of art and culture as his foe’s image would in the world of politics?


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The Human Touch

Last Thursday, we aired a special one-hour Chicago Tonight called “American Graduate” which looked at the truly troubling high school dropout rate (about 25% nationwide, about 35% in Chicago.)  We had a live studio audience of students, educators, education experts, parents, etc.  We also had several panels including one that featured a principal at Chicago’s Wells High School, Ernesto Matias.  According to Matias, last year the dropout rate at Wells was 20% and this year it’s 13%.

One of the things that Matias and his colleagues do at Wells that might be helping lower the dropout rate:  every morning each student is greeted by Matias or another educator with either a handshake or a hug.  Each and every student. Makes a lot of sense.  Why?  Because the overriding theme we heard from students who had dropped out was that they did not feel connected to the school.  Now a handshake or a hug may not increase test scores or guarantee that a student will do what it takes to graduate.  But step one in any relationship is feeling a connection.  Otherwise a relationship can be tenuous.

So hats off to Principal Matias and his staff for understanding the most basic component of a human relationship –the human touch that says something like, “I see you as a fellow human being and a person of worth.”  We should all have that in our lives.

So to all the folks at Wells, I’d like to shake your hands myself.  And may your graduation rate continue to improve.

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Did You Miss These?

Some random articles that caught my attention over the weekend:

1.  This Washington Post article about what the past month has been like for the Romneys.  Of particular interest — the report that Ann Romney believed “ascending to the White House was their destiny.”

2.  This article by Rick Morrissey in the Sun-Times about football concussions.  One day, society may look back at professional football and be aghast at what happened to athletes for the sake of our collective entertainment.

3.  A travel story in the Sun-Times about how seats from a now-demolished stadium in Indianapolis are being recycled there, and being placed in locations where the public can use them.  Smart.

4.  This New York Times article on “humble-bragging.”  Ouch!


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