KEOSAUQUA — Dave Kirchner, 69, Keosauqua, had a lot to be thankful for in 2013.
• Friends who helped out in his hour of need.
• A successful surgery that gave him a new lease on life.
• And thankful that if he had to have a heart attack, outside of Soldier Field, Chicago, after a Bears game is not a bad place.
Kirchner, known as “Mr. Warrior” because of his dedication to Van Buren Warrior athletics and academics, is recovering after suffering a heart attack on Sept. 15 in Chicago after the Bears beat the Vikings in exciting fashion. He was attending the game with Dave Alvis, Van Buren school counselor.
Kirchner said he had been doctoring for a heart condition.
“Every time I would go get the school physical, they said I had a heart murmur. I wasn’t on any meds or anything, I was basically just monitoring the situation. A year ago, I got an official diagnosis, Aortic Valve Stenosis. The symptoms would be shortness of breath, chest pains or blacking out. I kinda thought I would have the shortness of breath or chest pains, but I blacked out.”
“I remember everything about it. It had been drizzling during the game, there were about 10 seconds left in the game and I had the rain gear on.”
He just happened to black out on one of the busiest streets in Chicago right after an NFL football game. Fortunately, within seconds, three medical professionals, including a cardiologist, were there to render him aid.
“The last thing I remember was thinking the sidewalk was slick. I went down and broke my glasses,” Kirchner said.
He was out for less than a minute, but it seemed longer to him.
Fortunately, he fell amongst a group of medical professionals.
“I woke up and there was a woman leaning down beside me, and she’s got her hand on my shoulder. I told her, ‘I think I will be OK’. She was an ER nurse. There was a group of maybe 100-150 people nearby walking back to their vehicles. There was also an EMT and a cardiologist, and they weren’t there for any particular professional duties. They just happened to be a group coming back from the game.”
Kirchner said he was fortunate.
“I walk in Lacey-Keosauqua State park and try to walk four to four-and-a-half miles. I figure I was fortunate. I could have been in a situation, on a walk by myself, in the park. I could have been down by Barker Wire or something or out on the track. There aren’t too many people out on the track. When I was doing the walks, I could have gone face down any of those places. I couldn’t have picked a better spot from the standpoint of having the medical personnel right there. There were actually people there that know what should be done within seconds by the time I hit the ground. These people actually do this for a living.”
Dave Alvis had the presence of mind to get the keys out of his pocket before they whisked Kirchner away in the ambulance.
“That way he could go back and get my car, so he did that while they took me by ambulance to Northwest Memorial Hospital, which wasn’t very far away, probably 12-14 blocks.”
While on the way to the hospital, the ambulance crew asked the usual questions.
“They asked my name and what year it was and who was president of the United States.”
And then they came to a question Kirchner laughs about.
“They asked how much did you have to drink at the game,” Kirchner said. “Not 'if' you had anything but how much. I got to thinking, well, you know, that’s probably a pretty good question because most people that pass out in downtown Chicago after a major sporting event, probably it’s because they either have a medical condition or are just drunk. I told them I didn’t have anything to drink, not that I am against having a beer at a ballgame. I’m just basically opposed to the idea of paying 8-9 bucks for a 15-ounce beer.”
The story about how Kirchner was able to get season tickets to the Chicago Bears starts in the 1950s.
“My uncle was a Bears fan, and he kinda got me started in that. You got to remember in the 1950s, there wasn’t any Minnesota Vikings and the Cardinals hadn’t moved to St. Louis, they were still in Chicago, so it was logical you’d be a Bears fan, at least geographically.
"The Packers weren’t very good in the 1950s, and my uncle wasn’t a Packers fan, so that probably wouldn’t have gone over. The American Football League hadn’t been formed yet, and a franchise didn’t move to Kansas City until 1963.”
Kirchner said his favorite Chicago Bears players in the 1950s were probably Harlon Hill and Bill George.
Hill was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1954 and the Player of the Year in 1955. Hill still holds the Chicago Bears record for most receiving yards (1,124) and most touchdowns (12) by a rookie.
Before Dick Butkis, there was George, who revolutionized the NFL by becoming the first to star at middle linebacker. He had 18 interceptions and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.
“Another favorite was Rick Casares, a fullback.”
When Casares retired, he was the team’s career leading rusher.
“Dick Butkus and Gale Sayres are about the same age as me. They would’ve been a year ahead of me as far as college graduation goes. They were the next generation that you followed as a Bears fan.”
Kirchner said he started going to the Bears games in 1975.
“At that time we had a group of guys from around here that went. A lot of times we would rent a van. In those first few years, there would be anywhere from eight to 12 people that might go.” They went on a yearly trip, purchasing individual game tickets.
However, getting season tickets then was much harder. For some reason, in the mid-1990s, he was placed on a waiting list for those wishing to purchase season tickets.
“I don’t know exactly why I got on the list,” he said. “I think it might have been because I was a subscriber to the Bear Report magazine or something. But they sent an application if you wanted to be put on a list for season tickets. At that time, you didn’t even have to send any money in to be on the list. Imagine how things have changed. They would send out a list every spring and tell you what number you were on the list. I think the first year I was probably, like, 6,000. And the next year, they sent out another list and it was 5,925 and that went on for about three years, and you would move up 75 or 100. And I thought at this rate, by the time I’d get there, I wouldn’t be able to go or I wouldn’t be around.”
But that changed with Dave Wannstedt, Chicago Bear coach. From 1996-98, the Bears endured three straight losing seasons. Wannstedt’s last two seasons were back-to-back 4-12 campaigns.
“And in the spring of 1999, it comes out and announces, well, you’ve moved up to the top of the list, do you want to buy tickets?” Kirchner laughs.
He still has nice thoughts about Wannstedt, a terrible coach, but a person who gave Kirchner the opportunity to purchase season tickets to the Chicago Bears football games.
“Even though I don’t think much of Wannstedt as a coach, I have to give him credit for moving me up that quickly to get season tickets. You could buy how many you wanted to buy, so I put down two.”
The second ticket was for colleague Dave Alvis, another Bears fan. Alvis stepped into Kirchner’s school counselor position when Kirchner retired 13 years ago.
“We kinda have a warm regard for Wannstedt. For all the various coaching jobs he had afterwards, we didn’t think he’d be too successful, and he wasn’t, but we still keep him in our thoughts,” Kirchner jokes.
Kirchner and Alvis started going together to the Bears games the first year he had season tickets, in 1999, and have been going ever since.
Under new coach Dick Jauron, the Bears weren’t much better in 1999, posting a 6-10 record, but at least they had two happy campers parked in season tickets.
For the next 14 years, Kirchner and Alvis made all but one home game.
“About four years ago, we missed the game against New England because of weather. We could’ve gotten there, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it back and Dave had to go to work. That was the only game I missed until I had the surgery this year.”
The most memorable Chicago Bear football game he attended was the 2007 NFC Championship game against the Saints, a 39-14 Bear victory on Jan. 21, Kirchner said.
“That was kinda an interesting story. We were going to go up Sunday morning and it was a 2 p.m. kickoff. We were going to leave about 6 a.m.”
However, there was a forecast for snow, and Dave thought they should leave earlier.
“Dave Alvis was working as a D.J. The forecast was that the heaviest snow was going to start around 4 in the morning. So about midnight, Dave gets home from the event, and I called him and I said, you know they are talking about this snow, maybe we ought to leave now. So we did. We left around 12:30 a.m. Not a good deal, because apparently the forecast was not right. It snowed as we left. It took us three hours to get to Iowa City. There wasn’t any traffic to speak of because there weren’t any other idiots on road. Normally, it takes us three-and-a-half, four hours to get to DeKalb. It took us seven hours. We get there at 7 a.m. Sunday morning. We got to Chicago in fine time and we slept in a parking garage for a little bit before the game. The Bears won, and at the end of the game, there was snow, it wasn’t heavy but made for a nice, memorable experience. The NFC Championship would have been the most enjoyable for an individual game.” (The Bears lost the Super Bowl game against Indianapolis, 29-17)
Kirchner graduated from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University), Kirksville, Mo., and started teaching for the Van Buren Community School District in the 1966-67 school year. He taught American history, world history and senior English class his first year, he said.
In the late 1960s, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served from 1969-71.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to Vietnam.”
After getting back to Van Buren Schools, he worked on a degree in counseling and guidance, and in 1971-72, he became a counselor, something he did for the next 39 years before retiring in 2000.
He rarely missed a Van Buren football game, but ironically, missed all or parts of the biggest seasons in Warrior history, the 1969 undefeated season and this year, when Van Buren made the playoffs for the first time ever.
“Ironically, I missed all of the 1969 season after getting drafted. When all that history was made, I didn’t see any of that. But from about 1971 to the 1999 season, I think I missed only two games, and they were both in the 1970s. One, I was at at a convention in Atlantic City in the early 1970s, and somewhere in the mid-1970s, we ended up playing Burlington-Notre Dame on a Saturday night over there. I don’t remember why they played on a Saturday night, probably they were using Burlington High School field and they may have had a game on Friday night. I’m not sure of the reason. We went to the Bears game on Sunday, so I missed that game on a Saturday night.”
Kirchner has been on the sidelines keeping score at football, baseball, softball and basketball games for as long as anyone can remember. He is also a timer for track and cross country.
“I think the first year I was here, Gene Bumgarner was doing some of the score keeping and for some reason he couldn’t go to the Pekin game. Bob Reedshaw was the head girls coach at the time, and I’m not sure, it was Bob who asked me or Gene asked me if I could do it. I said 'yeah, I could probably do that.’ So, that was the first time I had done a game here.
“I’ve been basketball scorekeeper full time since about 1971. So there’s been a lot of bus trips. Since I’ve been retired I don’t go on the road to score. I may go on the road to watch. There was a stretch in the late 1960s where I was doing the boys games but not necessarily the girls games. I think the year Jack Dorothy coached I think his brother scored the girls games.
After he blacked out and was treated at the scene, Kirchner was taken to Northwest Memorial hospital, which is just a few blocks away from Soldier field.
“I went to the emergency room, and they did various tests. I got a pretty good idea of what was wrong. I explained my medical condition and they verified that. They also did an EKG and an echocardiogram.”
Kirchner tried to convince doctors that he would let Alvis drive and he would go to the University of Iowa, but they were not so sure of Kirchner’s plan.
“They weren’t too gung-ho on that idea. I thought I was gonna have the emergency room doctor on Monday morning talked into that, but after the cardiologist came in, then he wouldn’t sign off on that. They were only going to let me go by ambulance, not private car.”
On Monday afternoon, Alvis took the car, but Kirchner was delayed.
“Depending on which hospital you listened to, I think basically they didn’t have a bed in the cardiac unit at the University of Iowa on Monday afternoon. I stayed Monday night again. About noon Tuesday, a couple of EMTs came to my room and wheeled me downstairs into the basement of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and by noon Tuesday we’re headed to Iowa City.”
Iowa City told him they would have to do surgery on the valve replacement, and he was released Thursday afternoon. Dave and Carol Alvis picked him up from the hospital. He was home for the weekend. Van Buren played WACO at Keosauqua Friday, Sept. 20, but Kirchner was under doctor’s orders not to even leave the house. He did listen to it on radio, and Van Buren scored a huge 26-8 victory. The announcer even made sure to remind Kirchner on air not to get too excited.
“I know that’s the first game where I’d ever been in town and didn’t go to the game,” he said. "Doctors said it was probably best that I didn’t go out. I asked them if I could walk to the post office or something like that.They didn’t think I should do that. I figured if they didn’t want me to do that, I wasn’t going to ask for permission to go to the football game.”
It was one of the first Van Buren football games he had missed in the past 42 years.
Surgery was Tuesday, Sept. 24. Former colleague and present Van Buren school board member Bob Steingreaber drove him up to Iowa City on Monday. He was at the University of Iowa hospital for six days and came home the following Monday, Sept. 30.
Everything went well, and he went back up to his surgeon on Oct. 31 and got a clean bill of health.
“Bob drove me up, and then that night we went over to Brooklyn to watch the playoff game with Van Buren and BGM.” Kirchner saw the Warriors clinch the playoff spot the previous week against Danville and had been present for Van Buren’s home win against Winfield-Mount Union.
He missed the WACO, New London and Highland games.
“If they would have won the Highland game, I’m not sure I would have gone to the next game at Lone Tree. That would have meant they won three games in a row that I hadn’t seen.”
Kirchner didn’t wait long to go back to Soldier Field after the heart attack. In November, he was at two games, including one against Baltimore which had a weather delay of nearly two hours because of a tornado warning.
“I found it interesting that even after the stadium was evacuated and everyone was told to go to cover underneath the stands, the teams stayed on the sideline for probably five minutes or so. We were kind of wondering how come they evacuated everybody but had their players out here on the sidelines? After about five or 10 minutes, they went to the locker room and the wind picked up and it started to pour, but we didn’t get wet as we were under the second deck on the east side.”
“Everything seems to be going fine now. I met with my surgeon in Iowa City the end of October and Doctor Keinzle, the cardiologist that makes trips down here from Iowa City. He’s the one that officially diagnosed me last winter. I met with him recently and everything seems to be OK.”