“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which in omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”
William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

I was talking with a friend last night about this year. I have come to the conclusion that the Year 2009 sucks. It really blows, big time (and I refuse to give Governor Granholm credit for that at this moment in time). Putting Michigan’s economic woes to the side for the time being, this year ranks fairly high on my list of less than desirable years.

It started with the passing of Dr. Diether Haenicke (President Emeritus – Western Michigan University). That was followed by the loss of my job. This week witnessed the passing of Dick Soisson (former Football Coach and Counselor at Hackett Catholic Central).

Coach Soisson was a great man. Some will say that he was great because of his successes on the football field (over 200 wins, coaching the first team from the Kalamazoo area into the MHSAA playoffs). But I remember him for more than that.

His funeral will be held at the Cathedral Church of St. Augustine’s tomorrow (Saturday). I will forever remember a Saturday night at the Cathedral from 19 years ago. That night, the Easter Vigil, was the night that I became Catholic. Much to my mother’s and grandmother’s chagrin, I decided to go through the RCIA process my junior year of high school and went through it at St. A’s. I didn’t tell anyone at school what I was doing, it was something private. I was also, at the time, in the midst of my third year as the equipment manager for Coach Soisson … something he recruited me to do my freshman year.

There was a day in October, when I had just finished carting up the equipment from the practice field, when I passed the coaches locker room when out of the blue I heard “DAVID! GET IN HERE!”

Now, many Irish alumni will tell you when you hear the voice of Coach Soisson at a certain volume and with a certain tone, one of two things happen. Either you soil yourself immediately, or you have a mini heart attack. Sometimes you did both, but regardless of what you did – you reported immediately to the Coach – which I did.

As soon as I reported to him, he quickly asked “Are you going through RCIA at St. A’s?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who’s your sponsor?”

“Haven’t thought about it really. Not sure who to ask, sir.”

“Well, sign me up. I’m your sponsor if you want.”

“Yes, sir!”

Now, once I got my heart re-started after that conversation, I found out that Coach was the right guy to have as my RCIA sponsor. He answered any questions I had, and sometimes he even answered them during football practice. He made sure that I was made to feel welcome, not only at St. A’s, but with the football team as well by having me attend every pre-game mass with the team, even though I couldn’t participate fully with the team.

And on that Saturday night of the Easter Vigil, when I went up before Bishop Donovan to be confirmed and officially welcomed into the church, Coach was right there behind me – hand on my shoulder, smiling in that crooked way he had. Once Bishop Donovan had anointed me, Coach whispered “We got ya, now!”

Afterward, Coach had to head home right away, since it was after midnight by time the vigil concluded. Before he left, he asked me to meet him at his car. Once there, he gave me something very precious … his finger rosary. That rosary helped keep me centered for many years and I’ve carried it with often … outside of church.

I lost touch with him after I graduated, like many people who leave for college do with those who helped them in high school. I remember the last time I saw him, though. It was a few years ago when I was going door-to-door, trying to get myself elected Kalamazoo County Commissioner. I knocked on his door in the Westwood neighborhood and waited. It seemed like no one was home and so I turned to leave. As I did, a voice called out to me, “DAVID WORTHAMS, GET OVER HERE!”

Yes, I still had the mini heart attack.

We talked for awhile and at the end of the conversation he said, “So, you’re running for office huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, you’ve got my vote … leave me a yard sign.”

“Yes, sir.”

Of all the votes that I’ve been able to garner in my various bids for office, that vote is one I will forever cherish and I will forever.

I hope, today in Heaven, that’s still a vote a can count on.

I will miss you greatly Coach. Thanks Coach for helping me be who I am today.

Richard Soisson
1/25/1925 – 7/22/2009