For more than 20 years, writing this column has provided me with much therapeutic benefit.
I often adhere to the advice of my stepdad who said that there is no better, faster or more affordable means to getting things off your chest than writing it down.
That has served me well.
Learning of the passing of one of my dearest friends, this column is no exception.
Growing up, instead of throwing rocks at street lights, passing cars or dogs, many times it was a pencil and a blank piece of paper that would save the day and my derriere.
Without question, the second-best benefit of writing my weekly column has been the opportunity to meet some great people and establish some long, wonderful relationships.
Today, is about one of those people and our relationship.
During the first few months of writing, I would occasionally encounter a reader who would recognize me and reference a topic I had long forgotten.
Without hesitation, they would give me their position — pro or con — and we would respectfully go on our way. This was long before and more preferable to the current Facebook “Like” or “Unfriend” options.
However, it was the very first instance of a reader reaching out to me wanting to have a face-to-face, sit down talk about something I had written that has been the most memorable, influential and rewarding.
It was about seven months after my first column. Then editor, Phil Angelo, called me and said a local resident wanted me to give her a call.
With little more than a name, phone number and address, I made plans to meet her. Assuming that I might have offended her, I put up my guard before making my visit.
It was an early weekday afternoon the first time I walked into the old National Guard Armory on Indiana Avenue.
I met a petite lady wearing a bright yellow T-shirt.
The enormity of the building made her seem even smaller.
Thinking I could physically take her down if necessary was reassuring. So, I let down my guard.
She made a great first impression.
She offered me a cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon. That day would be the last day she would ever seem small to me.
Pat Hudson, or Ms. Pat as I would call her for the next 20 years, was the director of a not-for-profit out-of-school time youth program.
She wanted to know who I was, if was I was a Kankakee native and where did I get the gall to write some of the things I did.
She then pulled a transparent page protector with a clipping of my very first column out of a big black binder.
All this time, I had thought only my mother had read that one. Ms. Pat wanted to know if I still held the sentiments of that piece.
I assured her I did.
Learning that we both loved coffee anytime of the day and shared a passion for championing youth with untapped potential was a start of a wonderful 20-year journey. The years would reveal a lot about her.
Ms. Pat was a tireless advocate for kids who had time on their hands but lacked focus.
She worked hard to provide some kids the opportunity to remove the many reasons to fail they presented to her.
She believed in expectations and accountability, especially with kids.
She was no nonsense with a great sense of humor.
She would stand shorter than a 45-inch tall, 6-year-old and taller than a 6-foot man when necessary. She gave more respect than she received.
Ms. Pat was small in stature but huge in compassion, integrity, community service and civic responsibility.
She would give all she had if she saw a need.
She also would give you hell if she sensed you were full of disingenuousness.
As if it were yesterday, I remember that first hello.
Tomorrow, I say my final goodbye.