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Calvin Janisch recalled as having it all

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Catherine W. Idzerda
May 25, 2010
— As a teenager, Calvin Janisch helped the 1956 Janesville Bluebirds win the conference title.

As a young man, Janisch was a motorcycle champion, earning a place in the top 100 of the American Motorcycle Association.


As an adult, he was a family man, a good friend, a dedicated farmer and one of those guys who's so full of life you can't imagine him gone.


Late Saturday night, Janisch, 72, died after a two-car crash west of Janesville on Highway 14 just east of Rivers Edge Drive.


Janisch's truck collided with a car driven by Aaron D. Janke, 34, Beloit. Janke and his 4-year-old son were treated for non-life-threatening injuries at Mercy Hospital, Janesville, according to the Rock County Sheriff's Office.


Janke was cited for driving left of center and not wearing a seatbelt.


Janisch left behind three children, two siblings, an ex-wife who was still his friend and a network of motorcycle buddies across the nation.


A newspaper dated March 1, 1956, shows Janisch standing with his teammates under a headline reading "Janesville's 1st Cage Tourney Ever Opens Tonight."


A few days later, the headline read "Bluebirds Are Regional Champions; Defeat Kenosha in Thriller, 79-75."


At the sectional game against West Allis, Janisch played the game of his life, hitting six of seven free throws and leading his team with 16 points. A storm knocked out the power near the end of the game, but the teams continued to play under a string of overhead lights.


With seconds left in the game, Janisch missed a free throw that would have tied the game, would have sent it into overtime and would have given his team a chance at the state title.


But it's not an incident that marked him.


"Oh, he never dwelt on his misfortunes," said Georgia Janisch, his former wife.


Besides, four months later, Janisch won the grand championship title at the Wisconsin Motorcycle Rally.


Janisch became five-time state champion and even raced professionally for a time.


R.L. Patterson, a life-long friend, worked at Harder's Motorcycle shop on Delavan Drive and sold Janisch his first bike, a Triumph in "1954 or 1955."


He was a handsome kid and would show up at the motorcycle shop with a group of cute girls in tow, Patterson remembered.


"He was the James Dean of Janesville High School," said childhood friend Eric Steffes. "He was kind of a rebel, in a good way. He wanted to be himself, but I don't ever remember him getting in any trouble."


That's because he was drawn to the culture of motorcycle racing, a sport that requires guts—along with a sharp mind, quick reflexes and steady nerves.


"When our first daughter was born, he said ‘I think I had better stop racing,'" Georgia said.


He still went to the major motorcycle races with friends and made treks to motorcycle havens such as Sturgis and Daytona Beach.


Motorcycles were a big part of his life, but family, friends and work always came first.


"He worked all the time, he couldn't sit around and be idle," said his brother, Stephen Janisch.


After high school, he worked with his brothers in an excavating business and later bought a dairy farm outside of Janesville.


"He always wanted to be a farmer," Stephen Janisch said.


Then, after selling the cows, he went into business with his brother.


The two of them were slowing down—but only a little bit.


"We'd make Friday and Monday part of the weekend and then call Wednesday our day off," Stephen Janisch joked.


With that extra time, Calvin embarked on new adventures.


Last summer, when Calvin was 71, he bought two Jet Skis and took to zipping around local lakes with his daughters.


It was as though he couldn't stop racing.



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