Loss of good friends is tough at any time
“You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make here smile
And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight.”
— By Eddie Carswell, Leonard Ahlstrom and D.C. Daniel
When I hear the words to The Christmas Shoes song, it is a time of reflection.
No matter how much joy is celebrated during the Christmas season, nothing can stop life from continuing just as it has all year.
And a part of living is dealing with the loss of loved ones.
In recent weeks, a lot of good friends have died and it leaves us feeling sad and feeling that loss. But I also think about something my cousin Father Kevin Lutz said during the eulogy at my dad’s funeral Mass, “Heaven is a wonderful place. You’re not going to go there and say, ‘this is really nice, but I wish I was back in Ironton.’”
Whether it’s Ironton, Columbus or anywhere, we can take comfort in knowing they have met Jesus.
Earlier this year, there were friends like Tim Hodges and John Wolfe who died and meant so much to the athletic landscape. Now, it’s Larry Browning, John Lutz, Steve Baise, Dave Swartzwelder and then Friday morning it was Curt Boggs.
A big, strong, deep voice, intimidating hulk-like figure.
That was the Larry Browning you saw and heard on the surface with your eyes and ears. But that was not the Larry Browning you felt in your heart.
Oh, Larry was big and strong. He was a powerlifter. In the senior division, he was the World Champion in 1994 and 1995 and he was the National Champion three times in 1990, 1992 and 1994.
During his competing career, he set 22 world records and 13 American records.
And when he wasn’t in the gym, he was a kind-hearted soul who just wanted to help.
I got to know Larry after he had won his world titles and as we talked I realized his personality was a Jekyl and Hyde. On one hand a hard-working, immensely strong man physically, and inside a caring and immensely strong man of faith.
Larry loved his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren and would do anything for them. But that kind of generosity didn’t stop with his family. It wasn’t unusual for Larry to have a van full of kids going someplace to have a good time.
With Larry, anyone who needed or asked for help — whether it was lifting weights or helping to lift a bag of groceries — he was more than willing.
A big heart, a strong faith in God, a deep love of family, and a caring figure. Now that was the Larry Browning everyone knew.
John Lutz may not be well-known to many in the area sports world, but he spent his time mainly in the youth such as the years he spent as president of The Ironton Little League.
John began his career as a teacher and joined another class guy in Fred Neville as assistant football coaches at Rock Hill. He took a job at Armco Steel as a manager but eventually came back to teach at his alma mater St. Joseph.
I was impressed John was a highly intelligent man and the fact he was very versed in so many different fields of topics.
But what impressed me even more was how he talked with other people. John knew he was intelligent. I knew he was intelligent. It didn’t take long to be around him to realize this was one sharp cat.
But the most impressive thing was how he never tried to talk down to someone. Many a time John was in a battle of wits and you realized his opponent was unarmed, but he would never try to make you feel inferior although you knew he was the man.
One guy who was well-known among the students and faculty was Steve. He liked it that way. He preferred being in the background.
But to me, he was the original person who earned the title “The Voice.”
Being “The Voice” allowed Steve to stay in the background. Unlike children who parents say should be seen and not heart, Steve was heard and tried to remain unseen. He was the long-time announcer for the football and basketball games at South Point.
And if that wasn’t enough vocal time, Steve was the voice you heard when calling the schools on the automated system that helped direct you to the proper person.
Steve was one of my favorites because he had his own way of thinking and doing things. He was very successful coaching volleyball and softball and I laughed when I saw him on the sidelines at a volleyball game coaching in flip-flop shoes.
Dave Adams said it almost got him in trouble once because River Valley said something about Steve wearing those shoes on the sidelines. In typical Steve Baise fashion, on the Lady Pointers trip to River Valley, Steve wore a great big pair of boots.
It was like “The Voice” was saying, how does that sound to you?
He was a fun trip.
For me, Dave Swartzwelder was just fun to talk with about sports. He was a great athlete in high school and an outstanding softball player after graduation. He had a powerful swing and as a left-hander he put fear in many first basemen.
In high school, Swartzwelder was co-captain of the football team, captain of the basketball team and in baseball he not only was an outstanding hitter with great power, he pitched and averaged two strikeouts an inning.
He was voted Coal Grove’s “Most Sports Person” and lettered in all three sports.
It was Swartzwelder’s love of sports that led him to team up with his good friend James “Pee Wee” Gibson to revive the Solvey Softball Field — currently the Ironton youth soccer fields.
Swartzwelder drove his father’s tractor with disc from their farm on State Route 243 in South Point to Ironton where he and Gibson worked endless hours until the field was in pristine condition.
In 2004, Swartzwelder was inducted into the Tri-State Sports Baseball/Softball Hall of Fame. He was named the “Best Offensive Player” in the All-World Team, 65-and-older Division, and was recognized in national publications for his outstanding performance.
He was involved community as he donated hundreds of hours of his time, but his love of sports — especially baseball and the Cincinnati Reds — were points of great conversation for me when talking to Dave.
And one of the best things about Dave was his unabashed opinion. He said what he meant and he meant what he said.
And speaking of a straight shooter, you could match Curt Boggs, but you couldn’t do any better.
Curt was a graduate of South Point and was a standout in four sports including football, basketball and track.
He began working at the welfare office but decided he wanted to work with kids and he went to Ohio State to obtain his teaching degree. He hooked up with Kenny Fairchild and Dave Morgan and drove them back-and-forth from Ironton since he was the only one with a car but his passengers had to pay for the gas.
After getting a job teaching biology, Curt went to Marshall for a master’s degree in administration. He and his wife of 62 years, Loretta, went to Michigan for four years and he impressed the school officials so much of how well he worked with kids that they offered him an administrative job.
But with his parents getting older, Curt came back home and he visited his parents every day on their farm. In the meantime, he got a job as the assistant principal at Ironton and two years later was named the principal, a position he held for more than 20 years before retiring in 1992.
Curt never liked being in the spotlight. He loved Ironton High School and wanted to do something for the students, so the family is asking that donations be made to Ironton High School in care of principal Jeff Hairston for a scholarship to assist the students.
“Curt was a great man. He was a straight shooter. If you asked him a question or something came up he had to deal with, he gave you an honest answer and he didn’t back down from anyone. He was the best principal I ever worked for,” said former Ironton teacher, coach and athletic director Mike Burcham.
My guess is when they met Jesus, they asked to be fitted with athletic shoes.
Jim Walker is an Ironton Tribune sports writer emeritus.