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Deaths spur an alternate reunion

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Greg Peck
July 22, 2013

Readers of this blog might remember back in April when I wrote that two of my Marshall High School classmates, “Hammer” and “Buckwheat,” died early this year of apparent heart attacks.

Mark “Hammer” Berghammer died Jan. 29. When we were kids, I spent many summer days at his house on the Maunesha River in the Dane County village of Marshall. We’d idle away the time fishing or listening to the Milwaukee Brewers on the radio, playing catch or shooting hoops. After high school, however, we lost touch.

John “Buckwheat” Bornitzke died in early April. I didn’t “hang” with Buckwheat in high school, probably because I grew up in town and he was a hardworking farm boy. We did, however, spend weeks fishing in Canada four different times in the past 20 or so years.

Those of us in the Class of 1975 are all in our mid-50s. These deaths reminded us that none of us is infallible, that the years pass too quickly and that we should make the most of them, perhaps getting together outside our five-year class reunions. We discussed the idea at our 35th reunion three years ago but never followed through. Vacations, family commitments and work schedules always seemed to take priorities. This spring, however, after Hammer and Buckwheat died, we discussed it again, this time by email. Steve Liebetrau, a basketball teammate I hadn’t seen since he went to Iowa’s Wartburg College on a baseball scholarship, was involved in these discussions and was particularly pushy about a get-together. So I put the onus on him. He lives in South Dakota, and I challenged him to suggest weekends he might be willing to drive here for a Brewers game. Then another classmate, Jeff Verhagen, and I would check our schedules and the team’s schedule and see if we could make a game work.

Saturday, July 20, was the date we set. We started contacting classmates we’d stayed in touch with. Almost all responded positively. The event took on a life of its own, and the logistics of getting everybody together in the right spot for a three-hour tailgate party was a bit daunting. We pulled it off, however.

On Saturday, “Dog” and I joined “Liebe” and “Vic” and “Dick” and a bunch of other classmates (a lot of us had nicknames). We had an even dozen, including seven guys from the varsity basketball team (one couldn’t make the game because of a prior obligation but came just for the tailgate party). Dick celebrated his 56th birthday. Including wives, we had 18 people for the game. Buckwheat’s wife, Marie, joined us, too (her brother Mike was among the classmates).

The hot, humid air broke perfectly Saturday. I told Marie it was as if Hammer and Buckwheat had a little talk with the big guy upstairs to deliver us favorable weather.

The Brewers even won, 6-0, and are on a four-game winning streak. So a bunch of guys with a lot of history relived old times, caught up on each other’s lives and witnessed a small part of Brewers history because the club has set a franchise pitching record with 35 consecutive scoreless innings—and counting.

Everyone had a great time. Each time I looked at “Liebe,” he had a huge smile—that in itself made all the planning worthwhile. We even talked about doing it again in 2014. What the heck, the Brewers might have a winning team next year. Besides, we aren’t getting any younger.

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Classmates from Marshall High School, 1975, take time out from the tailgate party to pose for a picture. From left: Eugene Warmuth, Steve Millin, Steve Liebetrau, Steve Freidel, Jeff Verhagen, Jeff Heiman (behind Verhagen), Greg Peck, Joe Brinkman, Mike Taylor, Al Klecker, Tim Benson, Brent Reed.

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Including wives, 18 of us enjoyed the game.

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Tim Benson, left, and Steve Liebetrau share a laugh. Most of us hadn't seen Liebetrau in decades, and he seemed to smile all day.

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Steve Freidel tells a joke, while Cyndy Verhagen gets ready to take a picture.

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Brent Reed chats with Cheryl Peck.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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