Rozner: A Duchossois party 99 years in the making

  • Dick Duchossois, Arlington Park Chairman Emeritus, holds a flag that flew over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery during Military Appreciation Day in 2019 at the track.

    Dick Duchossois, Arlington Park Chairman Emeritus, holds a flag that flew over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery during Military Appreciation Day in 2019 at the track. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 10/6/2020 1:49 PM

There oughta be some kind of medal for living to the age of 99.

Thing is, Dick Duchossois doesn't need artificial hardware. He's got the real thing, as in two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

You get such items when you command a World War II tank battalion for George Patton through five major European campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge and a sweeping Third Army drive across France.

Duchossois was badly injured and almost didn't survive, yet he fled the hospital to fight again, because that's what the Greatest Generation did for one another.

The Chairman Emeritus of Arlington Park once told me he never thought he'd live through a war that ended in 1945, so the last 75 years have pretty much been gravy, battles with cancer and heart disease simply postholes in a John Ford, Hollywood-style journey.

The big family and big businesses, billions earned, invested and donated, and of course his pride and joy, Arlington Park.

It would only be fitting if the Local Oval -- which in a surprise will have racing next summer in its 94th year -- makes it to the end of the 2021 meet on Sept. 25, and hosts one heck of a 100th birthday party 12 days ahead of the big one.

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Duchossois turns 99 Wednesday and social distancing being the order of the day, there will be a surprise for him this time as 99 personal, police, fire and public works vehicles from local municipalities will parade past his Barrington Hills home in tribute.

What else can you do for the man who has everything, who has won every award, been given every honor, been inducted into all the halls of fame and now has the Arlington Million renamed as the Mister D. Stakes?

No spoiler alert necessary as the Daily Herald will be kept hidden from him until after Wednesday's parade.

"Most people measure him by the wealth he has accumulated," said Arlington Park president Tony Petrillo, who has worked for Duchossois for 27 years. "But I believe you measure him by his contribution to the community, his philanthropy and his wisdom, his kindness and his toughness.

"Do you have time for a quick story?"

Please, Tony, like I have some pressing engagement.

"Good, so we're walking around the track one day and it was packed," Petrillo said. "We're looking to get a hot dog and the lines are long and we get separated because he's always stopping to talk to people.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I get my dog, but I can't find Mr. D."

After about an hour, Petrillo spotted the boss.

"He's sitting with one of his employees who emigrated from Mexico. He's asking for her life story and she's telling him everything about how she got here, how her children got here, where she lives and what she does," Petrillo said. "He has sat with the Queen of England, but he wants to sit with everyone. He has a curious nature and he's just a very kind individual.

"Don't get me wrong. He can be very tough and very strong and I have been on the wrong end of that conversation many times."

And at 99, having survived many health setbacks, Duchossois might be slowing down physically, but mentally is still going strong.

"I sat with him for almost three hours last week and his mind was as sharp as ever," Petrillo said. "He was right on point. I was so happy after spending that time with him.

"Usually, we talk on the phone for about an hour every other day, but to see him was great. He's my best friend. He's always been there for me."

Many might make the same claim. You don't live 99 years without an extraordinary impact on the people in your life, without love and compassion, without a ferocity to overcome and adapt.

Duchossois told me that when he returned to the fight after fleeing that military hospital, he announced to the men in his unit that, "I'm still here."

As he celebrates 99 years, that very much remains the case.

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