Early struggles fueled lifelong drive

My maternal grandfather did not know what to make of my dad when the 6-4 scholarship athlete showed up on his doorstep in 1960.

Grandpa Fey’s family drew from a long line of sturdy Cincinnati Germans, not one of whom ever stood taller than 5-7. They owned Fey’s Supermarket and my grandpa tooled around Cincinnati in his own car from the time he was 16-years old.

My dad had to duck his head to come through the breezeway door of the Fey family home and Grandpa always made it a point to offer him the sturdiest chair.

Imagine, then, the awkward scene when my dad, driving a car he had borrowed from his parents, ran low on gas and pulled into the gas station with my grandpa riding shotgun. Grandpa Fey watched, incredulous, as my dad put 25 cents worth of gas in the car.

“You know, Ron,” Grandpa said as he quickly calculated the meager amount of gas his soon-to-be son in-law had just purchased in relation to the distance home. “I can loan you a few dollars for gas.”

“No thank you,” said my dad. “I’m testing this car’s gas mileage.”

Dad packed little but his newly discovered athletic ability and his mother’s desire for him to graduate from college when he made his way from Colver, Pennsylvania to the University of Cincinnati in 1957. Those two attributes and his own strong need to succeed propelled him through graduation and eventually on to a master’s degree. In 1985 he was inducted into the University of Cincinnati Athletic Hall of Fame.

Of course, there were struggles along the way and, on one memorable occasion his sophomore year, he hitchhiked 375 miles home.

“I turned around and got the shock of my life,” my grandma told me. “Your father stood there in the living room.”

She fed him and put him on a bus right back to Cincinnati.

My dad worked hard during his collegiate career, which included a summer job in a hog processing plant secured for him by his future father in-law.

“Worst job I ever had,” my dad recalled.

But these struggles led to a profound appreciation both for the successes he enjoyed following those years and for the school that helped him achieve them.

Oscar Robertson, who averaged an astounding 33.8 points per game during his collegiate career, played basketball at the University of Cincinnati at the same time my dad played football.
My dad is the pudgy little guy standing next to my Uncle George on 20 Row. I love that they're all bundled for the cold, while my grandma has just a dress, sweater and bare legs. She was a tough cookie.
From a 1960 UC football program
At first my maternal grandma and grandpa, shown here in 1964 in front of their Cincinnati home, did not know what to make of their future son in-law.

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