A farewell to Bob Boozer - Omaha.com
Published Friday, May 25, 2012 at 11:22 am / Updated at 12:08 am
A farewell to Bob Boozer

Photo Showcase: Bob Boozer's funeral
Video: Bob Boozer's funeral

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The two-bedroom house on North 25th Street still stands — the only one left on the block.

It's 107 years old; the main floor is 910 square feet.

This is where Bob Boozer grew up.

From here, he became one of the greatest athletes in Nebraska history.

All-state at Omaha Tech, All-America at Kansas State, Olympic gold medalist, NBA champion.

From here, he traveled the world.

Friday morning, seven blocks from his old home, hundreds of people gathered at Boozer's church for his funeral. He died last Saturday at age 75.

Sitting in the pews were childhood friends, ex-teammates, politicians — even four teen­agers from Boys Town.

They remembered a man who never forgot where he came from. They celebrated a man whose experience was as rich as his character.

Boozer was 6-foot-8, but he looked comfortable in any crowd. He rubbed shoulders with legendary basketball players. He dined with corporate elites. He hung out at the local barbershop. He worked with ex-convicts.

He didn't change.

“He's for real,” said Bob Gibson, baseball hall of famer and Boozer's longtime friend. “There was nothing pretentious about him. I liked that.”

Boozer's authenticity enabled admirers young and old, black and white, to share the stories that defined him.

Lonnie McIntosh, Boozer's friend since elementary school, told of Boozer's summer working the soda stand at Happy Hollow Country Club. He ate enough hamburgers to blow the profits, but he grew 6 inches.

Tommy Hawkins told of Boozer's plot — during their early days with the Cincinnati Royals — to team up and tackle 285-pound teammate Wayne Embry.

Hawkins grabbed his legs, Boozer grabbed his arms and, sure enough, the big man went down. Then Embry got up.

“What now, Bob?” Hawkins said.

“Run, Hawk, run!”

Hawkins also recalled Boozer's pride in his hometown. He constantly talked about “God's country.”

Hawkins' reply: “Where the hell is Omaha?”

Omaha is where Boozer learned to compete. Ask Gibson, who played with Boozer in the schoolyards and the sandlots, including at Burdette Field. Boozer was 17 months younger than Gibson.

“We used to kind of beat him up a little bit, trying to make him tough,” Gibson said. “I guess it worked.”

Omaha is where Boozer's parents called him to the dining room table in the early 1950s and told him they didn't have enough money to send his older sister and him to college. Mary could go, but he had to get there on his own. (He earned a basketball scholarship.)

Omaha is where Boozer, after his playing days, became an executive at Northwestern Bell. It's where he opened a carwash at 24th and Ames, in part, to bring jobs to north Omaha. It's where he retired ... until he decided he didn't want to grow old on his couch.

Then-Gov. Ben Nelson appointed him to the Parole Board. He helped guide hundreds of parolees per week, many of whom grew up in gangs. When they made excuses — when they said they came from a tough neighborhood — Boozer fired back, “So did I.”

Boozer and his wife of 46 years, Ella, settled in west Omaha, a few blocks west of Bob Boozer Drive. A few miles west of Boys Town.

At least twice a week, Boozer dropped by to mentor teens. Get your grades up, he said. Get a haircut.

“He was always there,” said Boys Town family teacher Simone Jones. “We'd look up and he'd be walking in, or we'd come down the stairs from the office and he'd be sitting on our front porch.”

After the service Friday, four Boys Town students lined up outside Morningstar Baptist Church to hug Ella Boozer.

Jones said: “We adopted each other. But he adopted us first.”

Moments earlier, senior pastor Leroy Adams Jr. had delivered a rousing sermon, his voice echoing through the microphone and bouncing off the brick walls.

He challenged the congregation to make an impact on others' lives, the way Boozer did. And he proclaimed his belief that heaven, too, has a basketball court.

It's 94 feet long, 50 feet wide.

The floor is made of gold, the backboard is made of pearls.

Yes, Adams said, God has a basketball court.

“Guess who's running the show?”

Contact the writer:

402-649-1461, dirk.chatelain@owh.com; twitter.com/dirkchatelain

* * *

Video: Bob Boozer's funeral:

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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