For those of you who hadn’t heard or skipped over the obituary page this morning, Yankton great Howard “Hod” Nielsen passed away on Wednesday at the age of 92.
As I was combing through the archives on the Press & Dakotan website, looking for a few old columns to share, I came across a piece he wrote just over 10 years ago, titled “Bypassed Opportunities Come Back As Regrets.” In the piece, he talked about getting a call from an old friend, Bill Treadway, who had invited Hod to join him and a couple other friends at his cabin in the Black Hills. Hod declined, as the invite was for the next day and he didn’t feel he could make that kind of trip on such short notice.
The column came out after the last of the four, University of South Dakota legend Dan Lennon, had passed away.
“With Dan’s death, all of them are gone now, but all are remembered with smiles and gratitude for the worthwhile contributions that they made in their time on this earth.”
That’s how I was feeling on Wednesday.
Hod lived in Yankton until his passing, spending his last couple of years in assisted living. Yet our paths crossed with lessening regularity over the years, mostly because of my inability to “make the time” for a visit.
And that is my regret.
Hod was a mentor for much of my first 15 years in the newspaper business, and much of the philosophy I have tried to develop in my young staff is based on his teachings. When he was still a regular in our downtown office, he was a source of guidance for my even-younger reporters.
He also had a connection with the athletes he covered. Upon Hod’s retirement in 2007, former Yankton and USD athlete Frank Leibfarth told how Hod would make the trek down to field level at the DakotaDome to say “hi” before each game.
His legacy was not one of telling us how great he was — as so many “journalists” of this generation are apt to do — but to tell us how great those people he covered were.
“He’s never been one to make himself the star, unlike some of our colleagues at a few bigger papers, opting to make the young men and women we cover the stars, as they should be,” I said in my farewell column to Hod in 2007. “While many read Hod’s column — and will hopefully read mine — the point of his columns were not to draw attention to himself, just to tell great stories. His game features and other stories were driven that way as well.”
That “Bypassed Opportunities” column ended with the words, “Who knows, maybe it isn't too late. I can just imagine that Bill's home in heaven is a lot like his special place that he and his loving wife, Hanky, enjoyed together at Lake Pactola, and where Deke, Ken, and Bill are now enjoying an exalted reunion of good friends in Paradise.”
Now Hod can join them and his wife there.
Thank you, Hod, for the legacy you left us.
You can follow James D. Cimburek on Twitter at twitter.com/aceman904