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Following Jeskewitz's example would be best way to honor him

Nov. 24, 2013

Hear ye, hear ye, the first meeting of the "Loyal and Steadfast Society of the Friends of Jess" shall come to order.

We all know who we are, the sad, miserable, unhappy ones. We who patiently stood in line for an hour-and-a-half on Nov. 20 at Falls High School to meet Sue, Jayme and Chad Jeskewitz and who bore witness to the elegant, full of life, wonderfully detailed wake for our leader, the great man that was former Menomonee Falls football coach (and so much more) Jim (Jess) Jeskewitz.

We who did that and then came to the great, melancholy celebrations that were his funeral at St. Mary's Catholic Church and then his pizza and chocolate malt ice cream consecrated lunch at North Hills that followed on Nov. 21, told stories both funny and sad, shed tears and looked for an outlet, any outlet for our unease, downcast eyes and the wads of soggy tissue gathering in our pockets and purses.

I, as a relative Johnny-come-lately to this gathering (I first got to know him in 1986), have a few suggestions in this regard. Things we can all do to honor his memory for this vast, warm-hearted person, who started his circle of friends early (wonderful job with the eulogy, John Niebler) and kept as many of those people as close as possible and then kept expanding that circle until it felt like the entire state of Wisconsin was drawn into his welcoming embrace.

Try to keep the letter, but mostly the spirit, of the following suggestions close to you and see if, in time, you can think about this fine individual, who passed away on Nov. 17 at age 74 (if we had been lucky, he would have lived to 174), with not so much grief as with a sense of just following his good example.

I think he would have preferred that as opposed to us sitting around and moping.

First off, to the coaches among you and a lot of you know and practice these things anyway, remember that the kids come first that they and you should be having fun out there as well as trying to win games. He always said he wanted to make it a good experience for them. That includes remembering your less financially fortunate players in your charge when it comes around to awards time. One player at the wake said Jess made sure that he always got the fine special conference title plaques and medals he was entitled to even though his family couldn't afford to pay for them.

Also, remember to be a good sport. Following the first WIAA state championships in 1976, one that Jess and Falls East were fortunate to win over Clintonville, Jess sent a letter of congratulations to Truckers' coach Chet Jurkovac and his players and followed that up with a phone call. Jurkovac was so impressed with that display of class and dignity that he sent a lovely letter back to Jeskewitz thanking him for it. That letter was prominently displayed in a scrapbook at the wake.

If you're a politician like Jess was for years after his retirement from football, remember that you're working for ALL of the people, not just a small group who happened to fund your campaign. Members of the Waukesha County Board recalled again and again how Jess, with his coach's skill for bringing people together, could work across an aisle and bring consensus to an issue. To him, all politics was local, belonging to the people who lived in the community and not to any one party or group.

And here are the truly important ones:

Remember your spouse. In the days before his passing, he would talk to his wife, Sue, about getting her car prepared for the winter as well as myriad other things that she needed to have ready (that he usually did). Whether she dinged his car with hers or locked her keys in the car 20 miles away in a snowstorm, he always came to the rescue, largely (but not always entirely, she laughed) without complaint.

If you're a friend, help them out. One person speaking noted that the very handy Jess came over to fix his water heater one day (Jess had learned many such skills from his electrician father, Oscar). When the job was done, the friend had out his checkbook and all Jess could do was look up and say, "Are you kidding me?"

If you have access to getaway from the madness like the Jeskewitzes do out at Lake Five or their skiing cabin way up north, make sure others are welcome. Every other picture among the many hundreds on display at the wake were Sue and Jess and the kids amidst a large group of people, eating, drinking, celebrating life.

The stories about the house party the Jeskewitzes hosted following that the state title game in 1976 are the stuff of legend. You'd think the entire village was in the house up on Hilltop. Even better are the stories about how Jess would help teach cognitively disabled children and adults from area residences how to fish, using his pier at Lake Five as the backdrop.

He probably had as much fun doing that as the kids did.

Also, he'd like you to remember, like he did, the food pantries, the people who need help shoveling their snow and the little civic improvements like planting flowers or pulling weeds.

In short, remember people.

Those in the alpha circle of the society do. His assistant and friend Bob Hessler grabbed the mic briefly at North Hills and said he was happy to get on Jess's bandwagon back in 1968 and happy to stay with him for 30 years.

"It was my privilege to have been a part of this, never his," Hessler said.

And so did Hessler's son, Jim, who grew up around all the noise and excitement. He continues the society's ethos.

He coached at Falls for a time, became an athletic director for a time, moved on to Arrowhead to become a coach and now has the privilege of continuing Jess's circle if in a different place.

He coaches his own son at Arrowhead, along with the son of Mike Sellhausen, a key player on that 1976 Falls East team. These kids became state champions in their own right Friday night at Camp Randall when Arrowhead beat Franklin for the WIAA Division 1 crown.

"I got together with some of the people from that time the other night and we laughed and we cried," said Jim, wiping away a tear as he readied for the trophy ceremonies at Camp Randall on Friday. "He (Jess) was a second father to me and at least we had this chance to make him smile tonight.

"We had a chance to make him smile."

Which we, as all members of the loyal and steadfast society, can do now and for the rest of our lives.

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