Monthly Archives: May 2016

Ron Rosenbaum, RIP

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It’s late at night. I’m in the Fortress of Solitude and just popped the VHS of “Goodfellas” into the machine. Not a DVD, an mp3 or a stream, but Old School VHS. Having learned this evening of the death of Ron Rosenbaum, “Goodfellas” on VHS seemed the proper choice. It was Ron’s favorite movie, or at least his most quoted. “Goodfellas” quotes were as central to Ron’s style as quotes from “Caddy Shack” or any Bill Murray moving before 1984 are central to mine. The difference was Ron had Henry Hill’s phone number when Hill was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Ron had a LOT of phone numbers like that.

Ron was the St. Paul attorney whose investigation won the largest medical malpractice lawsuit in Minnesota history and won a big-time verdict tearing the cover off a University of Minnesota sports scandal. Ron grew up in St. Paul. As a kid he knew St. Paul mobsters, gamblers, neighborhood strong men and politicians. Ron knew EVERYBODY, and everybody returned his calls.

I met Ron in 2000 when I became Program Director at AM 1500 KSTP. Ron was providing legal expertise on several KSTP Radio and TV shows and hosting the weekend show “Holding Court”. I could tell Ron had talent, but the show needed a “foil”. I met former NYC cop Dan Conry as someone’s date at a client dinner featuring a bloviating Rush Limbaugh. I’m not sure either guy was convinced pairing them was the right move, but soon after the show took off. When 9/11 hit, we paired Ron with Mark O’Connell t0 try to make sense of those crazy days, and the two, joined at times by Conry, did some fantastic radio. Ron knew FIB agents, military experts, horse breeders, pro athletes and a thousand and one fascinating and smart people who populated those shows. When Conry resigned just hours before Ron and Mark were headed to NYC to broadcast from Ground Zero on the 1-year anniversary, Ron told me to call Lucy Quinlivan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Lucy immediately packed a bag and headed to the airport. Of course, she was the perfect person at the perfect time and the broadcasts were great. Ron and Lucy got together around that time, and I was pleased to learn they wed days before Ron’s passing.

In the mid 1970’s, Ron was appointed by a federal judge to dive into the unrest and violence of Boston’s forced bussing school integrations as a teachers in one of the most violent schools in the US. He also helped people you don’t know from places you don’t know get to safe places you don’t know who otherwise would have died at the hands of brutal dictators. When you were with Ron for lunch at the bar at the Lexington in St. Paul, you were assured of a good cigar and at least a dozen of St. Paul’s movers and shakers stopping by. Ron was always holding court, no matter the time or place.

Ron seemed to be in the middle of everything, including an effort I made to bring one of the budding stars of Twin Cities radio from a rival station to KSTP. Ron was acting as the de facto agent. The deal wasn’t sealed, but I felt we had a good shot at landing this talent. Whatever chance we had went down the drain in the space of about 10 seconds when a KSTP exec in attendance introduced himself by saying, “While I’ve never heard your show I hear you are great”. Ron and I locked eyes, and I knew instantly any hopes of a deal were dead. Now Ron was the master of negotiation, and its possible he’d been playing me all along. Whether he was or not, the result was the same. Had that talent come to KSTP, Twin Cities radio history could look much different today.

There’s one incident in Ron’s “9/11” days where I think he really got jobbed. Ron would quote from “Goodfellas” often, and one he used often was, “Get your shine box”, which he used much like others would use the phrase, “Pack your bags and hit the road”. However, one day he used it when breaking down a story about St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, who happened to be black. To this day I think Finney knew Ron was in no way using the movie quote in a racist way, but being a politician, or at least surrounded by politicians,  Finney took advantage of Ronby going to the papers and making it a controversy. Ron was many things, but he was as far from being a racist as anyone I’ve ever known.  To the credit of HBI ownership they stood behind Ron.  I hope he knew I had his back too.

Yes, Ron had an ego the size of St. Paul. There were days he’d chew me out for not giving him enough feedback, and there were days he’d chew me out when he didn’t like the constructive criticism I’d provided. He could be a pain in my butt AND have sage advice and support all in the same three minutes. He was loud, and smart, and funny as hell and all heart. His toothy smile was huge and unforgettable. I’m sad I didn’t get to say goodbye to Ron, but glad I was able to have him in my life for nearly 6 years. I guess on paper I was Ron’s “boss”, but there was little question it was Ron’s world, and the rest of us were merely in it. And that was OK. Adios, amigo.

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Pillar Of The Community

A couple of weeks ago I joined a room full of people with ties to Forestburg SD and Sanborn County to remember the life of Roland “Ike” Petesch. Ike died in December 2015 at the age of 91. This gathering was a chance for Ike’s family and those whose lives he had affected to come from near and far to share stories and laughs. There were some tears, too, but they were the kind of tears that were less about grief and more about the profoundly  personal and positive influence Ike had been in their lives.Unknown.jpeg,

Ike was a fine athlete in baseball and basketball, and accepted an athletic scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell. He left school after a few weeks because he missed Forestburg, 20 miles away. Ike went into business opening Ike’s Pool Hall, and for the next 26 years was open early and quite late 7 days a week. The first Pool Hall was, in a word, “primitive”and eventually burned down under mysterious circumstances. Some said the lady next door lit the fire, tired of the noise and  the results of a lack of indoor plumbing for customers, but no one really knows for sure. Ike rebuilt on a more “refined” spot on Main Street and lived in a house behind the pool hall.

Ike was much more than a pool hall proprietor. He and his place were the center of the community. You could buy off and on sale alcohol, milk, bread, his famous hamburgers (made one at a time on a tiny griddle) and other treats. In a town with no bank, Ike served as “banker”, cashing paychecks, and personal checks which at times the writer would ask Ike not to deposit for a week or two. Ike loaned money to who knows how many people. There were kids with a less than ideal home life who were welcome to hang out with Ike, maybe play a little catch outside. In a town without a retail shop Ike’s was where you could buy a watch, a shotgun or rifle or any other number of hard goods which Ike found at a good price in a catalog. He was a Pony League amateur baseball player and manager, and was enshrined in the South Dakota Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. He was the town psychologist who listened to everyone’s problems. He rented movies and projected them onto the side of his barn/garage behind the pool hall for kids and adults, no charge. He even offered dating advice and “sex education” to more than one local lad in a time and place where such information was not always readily available.  He was the official unofficial “Mayor” of Forestburg, and a man who spent his entire life in service to his home town.  And during the last few years he was living at home he was my “weekend” next door neighbor.  He was also a “shirt tail” relative, as Ike and my Grandpa Clarence were first cousins.

While i was born in Forestburg, I didn’t grow up there, so I’m WAY down the list of those he influenced. However,  we visited often. I remember every time we visited as kids we’d drop in at Ike’s with my grandmother and he’d always have a Three Musketeers candy bar and Nesbitt’s orange pop ready for us.  Of course it was on the house. Among the storytellers at the memorial was my friend Curt Talley, who described Ike as “a pillar of the community”, which Ike most certainly was. There are those who will say there’s an Ike in every small town. I’d counter that every small town WISHES they had a pillar of the community like Roland “Ike” Petesch, and a few are lucky enough to have one.