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Before Jim Bass went to college, survived law school, passed the bar exam and became a Bloomington attorney, he worked on an assembly line.

There was no foreman, just a caring forewoman with an eye on mass production.

"We lovingly referred to them as Slam Sandwiches," Bass said. "It involved 100 slices of bread laid face open, slapping on some mayonnaise and bologna and cheese, slamming the top on and packing them away."

Bass and his sisters, Linda and Lori, became a well-oiled machine. Win or lose, Illinois State's baseball players wouldn't go hungry.

Helen Bass made sure of it.

Aided by her three children, she sent her husband, longtime ISU baseball coach Duffy Bass, and his team on road trips with a cooler filled with sandwiches.

"We called them H.B. Specials … Helen Bass Specials," said Jim Brownlee, a former ISU player and now the Redbirds' head coach. "We didn't have much money in those days. We traveled by station wagons. Duffy would pack a lunch, and that's what you got on the road. But you loved every minute of it."

Helen Bass didn't stop there.

She had an appetite for baseball and competition, driving her children south each year for ISU's spring trip.

She was behind the wheel from start to finish, ultimately arriving in Biloxi, Miss., where the Redbirds played the bulk of their games.

"We would get there and she would lie on the bed. We'd wonder why she didn't want to go out and play on the beach," Jim Bass said. "She was exhausted."

The long journey is over now.

Helen Bass, 82, died this week following a battle with cancer, three months after the death of her husband.

The record book reveals Duffy Bass won 713 games as ISU coach from 1964-88, the most in Redbird baseball history.

It is not so clear regarding the impact of Helen Bass, who knew every ISU player, could evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and was more than a sounding board for her husband.

Occasionally, she would offer suggestions on strategy, the pitching rotation, etc.

Did he listen?

"He definitely did," Jim Bass said. "If he ignored her a few times, he was shown to be wrong. He learned his lesson in a hurry."

What people didn't know about Helen Bass, what she hid so well behind a warm smile and evenkeel demeanor, was how fiercely she hated to lose.

An avid golfer, she competed hard on the course.

"Her specialty was the short game," Jim Bass said.

Beyond that, she was passionate about ISU baseball. She relished victory and agonized in defeat, right along with her fiery husband.

"Everybody thought Duffy was competitive. I think she was the competitor in the family," Brownlee said.

Even in a nursing home, in a fight she couldn't win, she competed.

Brownlee last saw her at the Bass-Horenberger Classic game in early May between ISU and Illinois Wesleyan. Her mind was sharp. She recognized him right away. Yet, the body was failing.

He sensed she was ready to reunite with her husband of 58 years. Jim Bass must have sensed it, too.

Still, she never said it throughout her lengthy battle.

"Amazingly, she always kept her spirits up," Jim Bass said. "She always convincingly would say, 'Well, today was a bit of a tough day. But tomorrow will be better.' "

The tomorrows ran out this week. The forewoman has moved on.

Applaud her for a job well done.

Randy Kindred is a Pantagraph columnist. To leave him a voice mail, call 820-3402. By e-mail: rkindred@pantagraph.com. The Randy Kindred Blog is at www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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