Remembering Stan Mikita, the ultimate family man
We all know about the curved stick. The helmet. The 1961 Stanley Cup. The 541 goals, 926 assists and 1,394 points.
And, of course, the 22 years spent in a Blackhawks uniform.
But there is so much more to Stan Mikita than what he accomplished on the ice.
He was the ultimate family man -- a loving husband to Jill for 55 years, a loving father to four children, and a tender, patient and adored grandfather to nine grandchildren. He gave back to the community over and over again, creating the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired, getting involved in the Special Olympics and so much more.
Two years ago, daughters Meg and Jane and sons Scott and Chris opened their hearts to help us produce a Father's Day tribute that gave Blackhawks fans a unique perspective on one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Now, just days after Stan peacefully died with his family at his side, we would like to share some moments that didn't make the final piece.
We hope they make you laugh.
And perhaps think about how to make our world a little better -- just as Stan Mikita strove to do every day.
The entire Mikita clan gathered for this family vacation.
- COURTESY OF MIKITA FAMILY/2013
The first question I asked Stan's children was, "What is the first story of your relationship with him that comes to mind?"
Chris got things started and brought up the one thing every Blackhawks fan would cherish: The chance to be on the Chicago Stadium ice before or after practices.
"You could skate with the players, but when the coaches came out then you had to leave the ice," Chris said. "Kids were allowed in the locker room. It was fun."
Jane loved that her dad was her only golf coach from age 5 until almost 20. They would spend hours at the range at Medinah or White Pines golf dome in Bensenville.
Meg's favorite memories were eating oysters at Braxton's in Oak Brook and going to Art's Tavern after practices.
Said Meg: "I was so upset when I had to go to kindergarten because I couldn't go to Art's Tavern anymore every day."
Scott's first memory also had to do with food.
And how … INCREDIBLY SLOWLY … his dad would eat. The reason it got on their nerves? Well, in the Mikita household, no one could leave the table until everyone was finished.
"He would put all the food on his plate, get everything organized the way he wanted it, then start eating," Scott said. "By the time he started, everybody else was halfway done.
"By the time he finished, it was 45 minutes later with that one plate of food. And he wasn't a big talker, he just ate SO-O-O-O slowly. I can remember us being like, 'Uhh, Dad, please. Just eat your food!'"
Stan Mikita with his son Scott, center, daughter Meg, left, and the family dog Heidi.
- COURTESY OF MIKITA FAMILY/1966
Another question I posed was, "What little things stick out that you remember to this day? Things that fans don't know about?"
Meg jumped in immediately and told us about Stan's will power. She couldn't believe how quickly he stopped smoking and drinking. No programs. No gum. Just cold turkey.
And the same with his fight-first mentality on the ice. That all stopped after 4-year-old Meg asked Stan why he was spending so much time away from "Uncle Bobby and Uncle Kenny and Uncle Ab" as he sat alone in the penalty box.
Jane marveled at Stan's soft side, especially as a grandparent.
"He had all the patience in the world for our kids," Jane said. "My middle kid was challenging as a baby. And he was so patient with him. More patient than I could have been at times."
Jill always loved how determined her husband was, especially when it came to education. Stan didn't graduate from high school, but he later took the GED and passed. A couple years later, he was off to college.
Well, sort of.
"One summer after his season was over, he went to Elmhurst and took one class," Jill said. "He aced the class and said, 'Well, I guess could do it. That's the end of my college.' "
For Scott, Stan's quiet kindness stood out. Before the days of recycling and environmental protection took hold, Stan was doing his best to declutter the Earth one piece of garbage at a time.
"He'd see a piece of trash on the street and he'd pick it up," Scott said. "What a great lesson that is for a kid. He didn't throw that piece of paper on the ground. He had no connection to it. But he felt like he could do that one little thing … because it was the right thing to do.
"I think that goes back to the whole 'team thing' -- that we're in this together. You do what you can do when you can do it."
As a child, this practice rankled Scott, but now the 52-year-old Broadway actor finds himself doing the same thing in and around New York City.
"My kids asked me about it. 'Dad, why do you do that?' " Scott said.
"I had to kind of sit down and think about it. And I said: 'You know what? Grandpa used to do it all the time.'
"Do I think it's going to change the world? No.
"But if 50 percent of the people in the world picked up one piece of trash every day, think how much cleaner the world would be."
• Twitter: @johndietzdh