Requiem for a Fishing Buddy

Requiem for a Fishing Buddy

Captain Rich Lobojko

This week, I lost my fishing buddy.

Lake Wisconsin lost a man whose very presence will surely be missed by the natural order itself when early spring buds blossom and autumn’s palette is sprinkled over the woods and sky and he is not there.

So many friends and loved ones lost a man who brought great humor, a true raconteur’s storytelling sense, and a depth of character and solid connection to an old-school moral code to the world that few people ever achieve.

Rich Lobojko was a genuine hero to me since the late 70’s – a man’s man, certainly, but also a father figure in some ways  — perhaps more like a favorite uncle who might slip you a beer, pull your hat down over your eyes, and let out a deep, hearty, resonant laugh that let you know that he cared about you. That you were in on the joke.

It emanated from him, and you felt it.

A hard worker all his life, Rich was able to enjoy some nice years hanging out and traveling with his lovely wife Verna, his children and grandchildren, and the myriad fellas who joined him up at Lake Wisconsin once or twice a year. I only missed one trip since 1997, and that was because I was in Tennessee.

“Not a great excuse,” Rich would say, and then the deep laugh would come out.

Rich was clearly in his element at the lake. He had been coming to these cabins for forty-plus years, seeing new resort owners come and go, developing lasting friendships with them, and taking a kind of ownership of the grounds and water, really, that they could not quite manage.

To me, he came to embody the place. “The fishing trip” was sacred.

And Rich was clearly the host, whipping up batches of Spam and eggs, cooked to order, with a dash of garlic salt on the yolks, venison sausages courtesy of a successful November hunt by his son Mike, and stacks of toast. There Rich would be, spatula in hand, telling stories of working with his crew years ago in the cold Chicago winters, giving it all an immediacy that you could feel – all of it fresh in his mind, painting a picture.

He created a gaming table the year after one of the fisherman dice players complained of having to walk up to the board. It was a thing of beauty, with its smooth, felt nap and the way it effortlessly glided over small ball bearings in the base. Upon seeing it, the complaining dice player expressed his gratitude to Rich, who just said, “I made it so you’d stop spilling the whiskey.” And the laugh would come out again.

That laugh. That look on his face.

He loved it there. We loved having him there.

And we loved him.

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As a former theater critic for the North Loop News and a reviewer of local bars for Timeout Chicago, as well as an occasional beer writer for the Tribune Redeye, I love Chicago for all its quirky, out-of-the-way places, and its character — not to mention its characters. And hot dog stands. I’ve been a reporter, a dock worker, an advertising copywriter, an English teacher, and now — a hot dog blogger. Who would have figured? My partner in this endeavor is Hot-C, also a teacher — and a great wife. Get in touch: [email protected]

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