Sad Sunday as ALS takes life of beloved prep sports writer

Happy Sunday.

That's how Bill Pemstein started every text message to me at the start of a new week. An update on his boys was followed by some fun observations about the high school games he covered for the Daily Herald that weekend.

And when I responded, sometimes while stuck in Soldier Field traffic en route to covering a Bears game, or after attending Mass and brunch with my family, the man who could be both blunt and beautiful at the same time scolded me if I didn't give him an update on my daughter.

Bill wanted to know about my kid, your kid, your family. It was one of the things that endeared him to hundreds, if not thousands, in his 30 years covering Lake County sports.

Shame on us if we didn't bask in the fun of family and sports, if we didn't celebrate life, if we didn't enjoy a cold IPA, cheer for our favorite teams, or share their agony with a modest cuss word.

When Bill giggled one of his high-pitched heeheehee giggles, you'd giggled back.

"Bill had a gift for transforming your bad mood into a good one in no time," said Bill McLean, who worked alongside Pemstein from 1992 to 2010 for Kevin Reiterman's stellar Pioneer Press sports staff. "He was delightfully quirky and genuinely interested in colleagues. You'd never hear a typical 'hello' greeting. Bill liked to blurt, 'What's happening with you?' And then he'd listen intently to your response."

At his Lake Zurich home, where he and his wife, Eileen, raised their sons named after former Baltimore Orioles (Brady, Riley and Nolan), Bill Pemstein succumbed peacefully to ALS Dec. 6.

Sad Sunday.

Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in April 2019, the Baltimore O's and Washington football fan fought courageously, never complaining, remaining feisty to the end. He started freelance writing for me in Lake County shortly after his Pioneer Press run ended. He typed his last story in January.

On Feb. 29, Bill Pemstein got to enjoy his eulogy.

Eileen made the slick move of hosting a "Sweet 16" birthday party for her husband, who was born on Leap Day (Feb. 29) in 1956. A football-team-sized roster of friends and family, including some who flew in for the bash, got together at a Lake Zurich banquet hall. After much food, drinks and merriment, people shared their favorite Bill stories, passing a microphone.

Weakened by ALS, his voice hoarse, a wide-eyed Bill sat at a table in the middle of the room, his Louisville Slugger baseball bat cane at his side. He laughed (heeheehee), smiled and nodded.

Tears interrupted laughs. Laughs interrupted tears.

For a night, ALS was benched. A room swelled with appreciation for a beloved man who loved what he did professionally and loved his family more than anything, even more than the three World Series-winning Orioles teams during his lifetime.

Gifted with the ability to pen a punchy lead, to ask a tough question thanks to his charm and disarming delivery, and to never back down from an opinion (often in the form of a poignant column), Bill was a credit to local sports writing.

"Nobody knew better than Bill Pemstein that the sports department was the toy department of a newspaper company," McLean said. "Bill was that Tom Hanks character in the movie "Big," only instead of dancing joyously across a giant piano keyboard, Bill, sporting his trademark perma-smile, couldn't wait to log on at work and clicketyclack a computer keyboard while creating snappy, highly entertaining copy about a game he had covered."

Local sports were better because of Bill Pemstein. They were happy days, always.

• Retired Lake County high school sports editor Joe Aguilar was Bill Pemstein's supervisor.

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