Raising a glass to a colleague who disappeared as the coronavirus appears
Since the first cases of the coronavirus hit Minnesota in March, one of my colleagues went missing.
In the past three months only a handful of sightings of former sports editor John Rittenhouse have been passed on to the newsroom, but none of these by me, this former colleague.
Three months ago, as the newspaper was scrambling to understand the new health rules, John quietly pecked away at his computer keyboard, filed his stories — and then abruptly bid adieu to the job he had held for decades, announcing his retirement on his way out the door.
By the last newspaper issue in March, John’s byline no longer appeared in the Star Herald or online.
Due to the new health guidelines, all high school activities stopped. No sports, no sports coverage. No “On the Sidelines” column.
There was no retirement party.
No story highlighted John’s time at the paper or honored his dedication to covering Rock County sporting events year-round.
He declined to write a farewell column.
John simply packed up his pencil and notepad, hopped into his little silver car and drove off into the sunset.
Honestly, with all the news surrounding the coronavirus and the change in routine of the newsroom, I didn’t really noticed John’s absence.
As a more normal routine came into place, I slowly noticed his absence on those late evenings or weekend afternoons in the office when the two of us would quietly plug away at our respective stories.
Now the office is too quiet during those times, and I’ve mostly retreated to working at home — a place I know John would never feel comfortable working at, as he has said as much.
Quiet times in the office were when a more “down-to-earth” John would appear.
We talked about our kids and how well the area high school teams’ seasons were going.
I would inform him about how well his daughter, Melanie, would do at speech meets and about her interest in robotics.
I’d tease him about not going to her music events and, I think once, the teasing led him to attended one of her plays and he secretly liked it.
Being the older of the two of us, John has a very conservative view of the world.
We talked health (me always declining to join him for one of his many smoke breaks). We steered away from politics because we didn’t always agree, but as colleagues, it made for interesting office chatter.
During the six years we worked together, a summer routine was established.
Typically in early June the Rittenhouse family would leave for vacation to northern Minnesota. John would brag about sitting at the lake, a fishing pole in one hand during the day and later changing to holding a cold Bud at night.
Prior to the vacation John would outline the sports events Jason Berghorst would cover and leave detailed rankings as to where I should put the stories on the page.
This year we are on our own as our sports stories return to the paper.
But the sporting events are slowly emerging and John will not be returning at all.
So here’s a column to you, former colleague.
While I won’t open a bar tab for you at the Green Lantern, I will raise a cold Bud to you for the courage of leaving your longtime profession behind and enjoying life.
Happy retirement, John.