Luchsinger was a master of laughter

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

JANESVILLEBob Luchsinger Sr. had a simple recipe for getting through life.

“I always figured a good laugh is the best medicine you’ve got going,” he told former Gazette Sports Editor Dave Wedeward in 1990.

Luchsinger Sr., or “Lucky” as he was called by his multitude of friends, died Sunday at age 96. He was well-known among high school basketball fans from his 23 years of officiating games with Ted Scalissi from 1962 to 1985.

He leaves behind many friends, family and smiles.

Wedeward said Luchsinger was one of his favorite people.

“Whenever I called him, I could figure I would be on the phone for at least a half-hour,” Wedeward said Monday. “He was an amazing storyteller.”

The lifelong Janesville resident excelled in both baseball and basketball. He graduated from Janesville High School in 1938, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and advanced to Triple-A ball. His pro career ended in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Luchsinger enlisted in the Coast Guard. He was playing on the Boston Goodwins pro basketball team when he was assigned to the Naval District baseball team. The team went around the East Coast—including Fenway Park—to promote support for the troops.

While he was in the Coast Guard, he met Eunice Cavallo, who was also in the Coast Guard. When the war ended, Bob and Eunice got married and moved back to Janesville. Luchsinger got a job at General Motors, where he worked as an assembler for 40-some years.

He began officiating in the early 1960s but had trouble getting games. He even considered giving up the hobby. That all changed when Scalissi moved to town in 1962.

Bob Suter remembers being on the bench as a Craig High School assistant coach to Stan DuFrane during those years. In those days, the officials would dress in the coaches' room—which provided endless amusement for the coaches.

“They were the most interesting pair of officials you would ever want to meet,” Suter said. “Not only that, they were among the best we ever had. You always knew exactly what type of game you were going to get.”

Even the players enjoyed having those two on the floor.

“All our players loved it when they knew Luchsinger and Scalissi were going to be on the game,” Suter said. “They had great rapport with the kids.”

Tom Bier was a young referee during the latter part of Luchsinger’s officiating career. When Scalissi couldn’t make a game, Bier joined Luchsinger on the floor.

Bier recalled one game at Craig when the Cougar cheerleaders were across from the Madison East bench. During one change of possession, Luchsinger reversed course down the sideline and was taken out by a cheerleader who was crouched on the floor.

“He went head over heels,” Bier said. “I thought, ‘He’s dead.’ But he bounced right back up.”

After a timeout, Luchsinger was good to continue.

“I was scared,” Bier said, “because I was a new official. I thought, ‘Please get up because I don’t think I can do this alone.'”

Bier is now one of the most respected referees in the area.

Luchsinger’s popularity extended far beyond the basketball court.

When Suter was just out of high school, he joined a Janesville semipro baseball team that had Luchsinger as a pitcher. The team made two trips to play the prison baseball team at Waupun.

As the prison doors slammed behind the Janesville players, Suter noticed many of the prisoners knew Luchsinger.

”I don’t know if Lucky smuggled in candy bars or what, but he had some candy for them,” Suter recalled. “They were all saying, ‘Where’s Lucky? Where’s Lucky?’

“I was really impressed. Both years I went there, (the prisoners) were really looking forward to seeing Lucky.”

His athletic abilities never waned later in his life and led to a memorable week in March of 1971.

In one week, his son, Bob Jr., played a major role during Janesville Parker High’s memorable state basketball tournament run that produced the city’s lone state boys title.

His daughter, DeeDee, was a member of the Parker High pompon squad—the first squad to perform at the state tournament.

And later that week, Luchsinger Sr. won one of his 22 straight city handball titles, said Bier, who benefited not only from Luchsinger’s mentorship as a referee but also as a handball player.

That was what made “Lucky” one of the most popular guys in Janesville.

“Everybody liked Bob, I tell you,” Suter said.

He was a dose of medicine no one could turn down.

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