What A Loss. You Just Never Know

Sep 12, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

It seems like every single day of the year is now the “Official Day” of something, whether it be National Dog Day, Cat Day, or whatever. Yesterday was “National Suicide Awareness Day.” Every single day of each year should wear that moniker. I know. I just experienced it and I’m still grappling with it and trying to process the whole thing. If you’ve never gone through being on this side of a friend’s suicide, you can’t imagine it. As of Sunday until around 12 noon, I couldn’t imagine it.

This will not be a fun blog to read (or write) and it won’t be a long one. I don’t even want to write it, and I’m not sure I can put my feelings into coherent words. I just hope, in some small way, it will at least be an eye-opener for someone. Whether you have a loved one who seems a bit troubled or near the edge, or if you feel that sometimes there is no way out of whatever predicament you believe you are in, call someone. Reach out. Don’t give up. Talk about it!

Radar, Lance, and Wilb. Brothers. (Click on any image to enlarge)

Bob “Radar” Ricker was my college roommate for two years, and a baseball teammate as well. If you’ve known me or have been following my writings, you might know of him and you might have had the pleasure to actually know him personally. This photo is from around 1982 or thereabouts.  I honestly don’t remember, but I was working for the Toronto Blue Jays at the time and we were all back at school to participate in an Alumni Game against the current varsity. You can see the bond in the photo. It’s very real. It lasted

Radar has been a close friend since we met at SIUE about a year after I got there, when he showed up at the lunch table as an undersized player with an oversized heart and a will to make himself a better ballplayer. His stature and his wire-rimmed glasses made the “Radar” nickname stick immediately. He was instantly absorbed into our group, and was one of us even when he was struggling to make the JV, much less the varsity. We all loved each other. We were a family.

More recently, he was one of our group of four former roomies who made it a pact to have a reunion every year, starting in 2015 and always based around the game we loved to play and continue to love with all of our hearts. We did that, and made a promise to continue it, because we were all getting older and it struck us all that we should do it because, well…  we still could! We never imagined that the loss of one member might be due to something like this.

Around noon on Sunday, I got a text from Lance McCord that began “Terrible news…” Lance had learned that Radar had tragically taken his own life the night before. He shot himself. I didn’t even know how to process what I was reading, and Lance (who is as well spoken as anyone I know) sent only a few cryptic lines. We spoke a few minutes later, and the reality of it began to sink in, but the reason for it still eludes me.

Spring Training in March. Lakeland, Florida. Wilb, Oscar, Lance, and Radar.

Lance, Radar, James “Oscar” Noffke, and myself were just four members of the SIUE Cougar baseball team, but we had a special bond as brothers. All of our teammates were brothers, but there was something about the four of us that kept us glued together. I really can’t explain it, other than to see a variety of “sticking points” that kept us tight. Lance and I have always been very close. He changed my life by introducing me to Barbara!

Lance was always the facilitator. He stayed in regular touch with Radar over the years and kept me up to date on things. Oscar and Radar ended up living only about an hour apart in central Illinois. Both of them were avid hunters and they remained very close. I was just happy to still be friends with guys like all of them. I feel fortunate to be connected to everyone from the SIUE baseball program. It is a truly classy group of highly intelligent, genuine, and loyal friends. Everyone should be so lucky.

I have almost no details about what happened and I’m not sure I want to know them. It’s just tragic and it’s such a loss for so many people. As Oscar put it, “A friend once told me that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I can’t think of any single line that more accurately represents what we feel right now.

All week, I’ve been working through the process and trying to come to grips with it. There’s anger, sadness, disbelief, and a wide range of other emotions. But, the strongest emotions have been triggered by the contact being made from these brothers of mine. Guys I don’t see for a decade at a time. Guys I don’t talk to as often as I should. The calls and texts have been so heartfelt. As I told Lance yesterday,”I’ve said ‘I love you man’ more times in the last four days than I have in the last four years.” These are friendships you can’t replicate.

Stan Osterbur, who I roomed with on SIUE road trips and then later played professionally with on the Paintsville Hilanders, texted me multiple times a day, just to check on me. After all, when someone takes their own life you can’t check on them. He made sure to check on me, to see how I was doing. And, masterfully, with each text he’d make it a little less morose and a little more lighthearted. That’s the sort of friendship you can’t replicate, as I said above.

Lots of guys were reaching out, through various means, and we all were there for each other. It’s a support group of the highest order. We still don’t know what we could’ve done, or if anything could’ve been done. There were demons we didn’t understand or never saw. We lost a dear friend.

Just a week or so ago, with a bunch of former Cougars at a minor league game. Radar is in the front row, next to his son John. Lance is behind him. Stan Osterbur and Bill Lee are the two furthest to the right. Brothers…

Former teammate Bill Lee said, “I just saw him a week ago at the SIUE charity golf tournament, and at the Gateway Grizzlies minor league game after it, and he seemed just like himself. He seemed great.”

That’s the thing. You almost never see it. Whatever possesses a person to get to the final tragic option is usually not apparent. It’s so sad. It’s just so damn sad.

Bob Ricker was a great roomie. He was hilarious. He was fun loving and willing to do just about any crazy thing anyone could come up with. When I got home from my first year of professional ball I called him and said, “School doesn’t start for another three weeks. Want to go to Miami?”

He laughed and said “How do we do that?”

My mom was doing a consulting project down there, living with a friend, and there was a spare bedroom at the house. I said, “Let’s drive!”

A day later we got in my little red Ford Fiesta and took off for Miami. Somewhere around Paducah, Kentucky we pulled into a gas station and I said, “You want to drive for a while?”

Radar replied, “Sure. But I’ve never driven a stick shift…”   He got some quick lessons. He didn’t learn much.

We were scholarship athletes at a very high level, playing baseball for an NCAA program that was outstanding, but I think Radar got as much enjoyment out of playing intramural flag football with all the baseball guys as he did hitting and fielding. He was demon on the flag football field. We didn’t lose.

I don’t recall one time when any of us would say “Hey, want to go do this?” without Radar immediately saying “Sure!”

He had a heart of gold, and even when we were young and immature Radar was the guy who made friends with local senior citizens. He’d stop by their homes and sit on the porch with them. He built a very successful State Farm insurance agency in little Maryville, Illinois and more than anything his business was about friendship. Locals would just stop in to see him and say hi. He had time for every single one of them. But something within him was missing. I wish I knew what it was. He left behind so many people who loved him and the reason couldn’t have been worth it. As Bill Lee said, “Geez, he had literally a million friends.”  He did.

I can hear his voice. I can see him when I close my eyes.

I can’t believe he’s gone… I miss you Radar. But Goddammit… It didn’t have to be this way.

As of now, the Ricker family is still grieving as are all of of his friends. There are no services pending.

I have a flight to Kauai leaving at 8:30 tomorrow morning. I’m going to be on it. I need to be on it. Aloha.


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