I believe the true measure of a man’s life has very little to do with how big his house is, how much money he has or how much time he spent in the office. When you quit chasing things and start looking at making a difference, the meter gets pegged. We lost a meter-pegger this week with the passing of Wayne “Mr. Pat” Patkunas.
Wayne Patkunas had a rare combination of compassion, grittiness and competitiveness that was blended like a perfect recipe. Not too sweet, not to salty, just perfect.
Coaches and teachers are not supposed to have favorites or pets in school, right? Everyone should be treated equally, right? “Mr. Pat” had favorites. All the kids who attended Hudson Grade School or Chiddix Junior High where he taught got preferential treatment, or at least it felt that way.
The best part is that male or female, athlete or non-athlete, good student or bad student, it didn’t matter; they were all his favorites. Funny how comments about “my” coach, “my” fishing buddy, “my” English teacher have resonated as a result of his passing.
To me it comes down to impact. I call it the spit, dirt and selflessness fact of life. The bottom line is simple: Was a life better because you were in it? For “Mr. Pat,” the answer is a resounding yes! His life made all of our lives better.
Putting value in every encounter with the intent of making a difference and doing it without fanfare or notoriety was his mantra. At the very base level, it is compassion and a genuine love he had for students. I was fortunate to have been friends with a man who personified that. This week we lost a legend, but to many of us it wasn’t about wins and losses while he coached in Unit 5 but it was the impact he made on our lives.
“Mr. Pat” shared his love of the outdoors with more people than you could ever count. I shared the boat with him doing everything from bass fishing with artificials to live bait fishing for smallies. He was light years ahead of his time and was integral in getting fishing clubs started in junior high. Trips to the Boundary Waters, Table Rock and other destinations during the summer were just what he did.
He recruited other teachers like Jerry Kusmaul, Vern Tickler, Dave Peters and Larry Custer to carry the ball for youngsters. I especially remember a trip we took to Ely, Minn., when we were in the seventh and eighth grades. Those experiences fueled the passion for the outdoors in kids that may have never thought about being a part of it.
His best fishing partner was his wife, Pat. She was the love of his life and after retirement they traveled across the country visiting friends, but fishing had to be part of it. Their zest for life was contagious and all of us who saw that love them for it.
He was without a doubt the best coach I played for. I was lucky to have played for many great ones but he combined X’s and O’s with gut. His adjustments and training methods were light years ahead of other coaches: using a towel to learn defense, using blocks on the palms of your hands to learn to dribble with your fingertips, and run, run, and run some more. We were never out-hustled in any sport. At Chiddix, I played for him in baseball, basketball and ran track too. If he was coaching it, I wanted to be a part of it.
When they made the man from Cicero, they broke the mold and I can still see that tilting-of-the-head looking over his glasses, that somber look of disagreement and that grin that made you know you were doing it right. No one has ever had the passion for kids that “Mr. Pat” had.
To Pat and to his kids, Mark, Debbie, and Diane, I loved that man. Not only did he get my passion for sports lit but also he is the reason that the outdoors are such a big part of my life. Lake Bloomington, Hudson, Unit 5 and our area lost a legend. RIP, “Mr. Pat.”
Kids fishing derby
The Prairieland Anglers Association will be holding a fishing derby fir kids up to age 14 on Sept. 17 at Bob Hartzold’s pond west of Bloomington. Rods and reels, bait and lifejackets are provided at the catch-and-release event. A safety presentation will begin at 12:30 p.m., with fishing from 1-4 and a wiener roast to follow.
Signup is free by contacting Roger Hagar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 309-275-4494. The event is limited to 25 kids and the registration deadline is Sept. 10.