NORMAL — The usually upbeat Pub II was anything but Tuesday as word of co-owner Terry Stralow's death spread throughout the community.
Friends and Pub II employees gathered at the bar to shed tears and share hugs.
"It's just unbelievable," said Gary Mintun, assistant manager. "Terry has gone on so many of these trips (to sports events)."
Stralow, who started Pub II 40 years ago, was one of seven people killed in a plane crash just east of Central Illinois Regional Airport early Tuesday. The group was returning from the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis.
"I don't know what to think," said Kris Toberman, a bartender at Pub II and Stralow's friend for more than 15 years. "He was an all-around good dude."
Toberman said Stralow's wife, Joan, called him about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday worried because Stralow had not yet gotten home. The plane was expected to arrive in Bloomington shortly after midnight.
"I left work and went over there," Toberman said.
He called Mintun about 6 a.m. and told him the news of Stralow's death.
Mintun said Stralow had gone back and forth about going on the trip in part because of the weather. He and Aaron Leetch, another victim of the crash, decided if the weather was too bad, they would rent a van and drive back.
"I've been here 32 years, we're all family," said Mintun, tears welling in his eyes. "Terry would want us to get through and do the best we can."
Stralow's business partner, John Rokos, was in Florida when he got a call about the accident. The two have been friends for 41 years.
"It's shocking. It's just shocking," he said. "I can't comprehend it. It's like a dream; a nightmare. He was like my little brother. He was a great friend; a great father ..."
The staff at Pub II put fresh flowers around the outside of the uptown bar about noon Tuesday.
"He was our dad; Pub II was our family," said Amanda Leggett, who has worked at the pub for eight years.
Added Emily Schroeder, an employee for 2½ years, "This wasn't just a place to work, it was our family."