Our day with Sue Ann and John (long).
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If you read some of this on Rock's - I apologize for the repeat. I thought I'd share our story in more depth here.
My son and I looked at our calendars back in June. He was going to be a Mentor for ND Vision this summer, meaning that he would be done with his work before the end of July. I had a free week in August. What to do with the week? We both agreed that a "guy's trip" was overdue - and one we should take - before the next 2 summers sped by as he accelerated into post grad adult life.
To my utter amazement, he agreed that my idea of going to visit the Rockne Memorial in Bazaar, KS was a good one. It was something he had thought was a necessity. I mean, it seemed only natural to pay tribute to the man who literally "invented" one of our favorite things in life - Notre Dame Football. We also agreed that a visit to The Field of Dreams was needed as well. We picked the week of August 4-8 and started planning.
As is mentioned on NDN's FAQ page, it was strongly suggested that you reach out to Sue Ann Brown, Easter Heathman's daughter, to make arrangements for the visit. I had tried to contact through the Chase County Museum in Cottonwood Falls, but received no reply. The week before our trip, I called the Museum.
"Hello. I'd like to see if I could schedule a visit to the Rockne Crash Site, please."
"Well, you're in luck. You came to the right place! This is Sue Ann Brown, I'm Easter Heathman's daughter!"
Following a great conversation, we scheduled to meet at the Wendy's on Industrial Drive in Emporia at 10 AM on Wednesday the 6th.
My son and I traveled our first day to Indianapolis. On the following day, we busted it all the way from Indy to Olathe, KS. To say we were tired of driving would be an understatement. We treated ourselves to a great BBQ dinner at Oklahoma Joe's, very close to our hotel. It was incredible. I cannot recommend it enough.
The big day finally arrived. We were both excited as we set out, driving down I-35 to Emporia. We were both blown away at the sheer vastness of this great country of ours. We drove for miles without seeing any people, other than the ones in the cars near us. Shoot; there weren't many cattle, either!
We were met at the Wendy's by Sue Ann, who looked at our CRV, and proclaimed it unsuitable for the trip back to the monument. She would simply go and get her husband John's pick-up, to take us back in. We drove over to the Municipal yard, where they park the school buses, etc. John was out doing a job for the city, so Sue Ann had to go back and get her truck keys. While we waited for her, John came up to greet us in the yard.
"Are you the guys from Michigan?"
"Yes, sir - you must be John."
"I am. I hope you like the site. I went up there last weekend with the weed whip so it will look good for your visit. We haven't had hardly any visitors this summer, so I'm glad you're here."
We then had a very nice chat about his father in law, and what all of the effort by their family meant to us Notre Dame fans. I told him that my son and I were in ND Stadium on the day when Easter got his ND Monogram. I told him that I fondly remembered chanting his Father in Law's name, as he and the family came into the Stadium. John got choked up, just talking about it, which triggered the tears for my son and I.
Sue Ann came back, rounded us up in the pickup, and away we went. On the way, we talked again about how much we appreciated what her Dad and her family have done to keep up the monument. Lots more laughs and tears, from people who had never met each other until 20 minutes before.
The visit to the site was something I will never forget. The absolute beauty of the Flint Hills of Kansas is breathtaking, in it's vast simplicity. There were just the 3 of us, along with the cattle, the birds and the grasshoppers. The silence was perfect. The serenity was very real. Sue Ann filled us in about her father's witness to the accident, as I tried to imagine all of that happening in a 13 year old's world, who was not privy to the goings-on of the world away from Kansas. We offered prayers of thanks to Rock and to Easter. Sue-Ann gave my son a copy of Moose Krause's funeral card, which had Rockne's prayer on the back:
"Dear Lord, in the struggle that goes on through life
We ask for a field that is fair,
A chance that is equal with all the strife,
The courage to strive and to dare;
And if we should win, let it be by the code,
With our faith and our honor held high;
And if we should lose, let us stand by the road
And cheer as the winners go by.”
We headed back to Cottonwood Falls, where we visited the Museum. It has so many terrific items about the crash, along with other Rockne memorabilia, including a Studebaker Rockne, right there in the museum. There are also several great items, dedicated to Easter Heathman, including his monogram and a bronze plaque.
Following a great lunch there in town, we headed back to Emporia, soaking up all that we had learned.
The following day was taken up with a drive to Dyersville, where we got to play catch at the Field of Dreams. I was so happy, I thought my heart might burst right there. We wrapped up with a Class A game at Cedar Rapids, where we watched the CR Kernels beat the Kane County Cougars.
All along the way, we got to talk about life and love and sports. He is a great kid. Those of you that know me and my family totally understand that he gets it from his mother.
What a great life we have.
God Bless America.
Love Thee, Notre Dame.
Thank you, Sue Ann and John.