Dyed-in-the-Wool Fan Learned to Improvise
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A longtime Lodi, Calif., doctor died recently, and Dr. Norma Gates, a 74-year-old psychologist who knew him and his family well wants Husker Nation to remember him like his "adopted" community did - as a humanitarian who could talk to anyone and inspire everyone. Dr. Walter Reiss was a 1951 high school graduate in Belvidere (Neb.), a graduate of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and was one of the earliest supporters of the Californians for Nebraska Fan Club. He died at 78 after a short battle with a blood disease and would fly his own Bonanza airplane to Husker home games in Lincoln as recently as seven years ago.
"He was a dyed-in-the-wool Husker fan, and as a Nebraska native and a Big Red fan, I think he would inspire our fans everywhere," Gates said, pointing out the lengths a successful doctor was willing to go through to support his favorite team. Once, while trying to take off in Nebraska, the sod airfield was too wet for the plane to get enough speed, so a couple cousins received permission to knock down the mailboxes on the longest street in town so Dr, Reiss could use it as a runway.
That's nothing, however, compared to what Dr. Reiss would do to hear his Huskers on the road. "He would raise money, so we could broadcast Husker football games out of the radio tower in Woodbridge (Calif.)," Dr. Gates said. "His wife, three daughters, sons-in-law and four grandchildren were all Husker fans, so he was a mover and shaker. He learned how to improvise. Not only would he bring the radio broadcasts to our area, he'd get on the local broadcasts before and after the games to encourage everyone to support the cause. He was passionate about everything, not just Nebraska football."
Gates laughs about the love and respect Dr. Reiss had for Dr. Tom Osborne, the AD, the coach and the former pilot. "He (Dr. Reiss) would see players he thought should play at Nebraska, and Dr. Osborne had to keep reminding him that he was a fan, not a recruiter," she said. "They knew each other and have a lot of the same traits. Dr. Reiss was always willing to go beyond the call of duty. He was a man of faith and devoted to his family. He rolled up his sleeves and did whatever it took to help those in need, from the Salvation Army to outreach medical centers and flying physicians. He wanted to make the world a better place and was willing to give so much of himself to make it happen. Whenever he'd receive an award, he would give full credit to everyone else. Husker red ran through his veins, and he will be remembered and missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him and experience his kindness and generosity. I worked professionally for 51 years, and you just don't meet many like Walter. He loved his country; he loved his roots; he loved his community; and he was unique."
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I'm 48 and I spent my childhood parking on hills or under trees to pick up those radio broadcasts that Walt made possible. My dad (Class of '48) and mom would pack sandwiches, and we'd make an event out of each game. Years later, my dad and I got to know Walt at our NCFN watch parties in Sacramento and the two of them served together on the board of directors. Every fall Saturday I get up early to listen to the pre-game show on the internet and by game time my entire family, including my dad, is dressed in red to watch the Huskers via satellite. I look forward to every one but nothing will ever replace my memories of bologna sandwiches, iced tea and static-filled Husker games on the car radio. Thanks and God's speed Walt !!! Scott Kelly, El Dorado Hills, California
Walt and I were in the same UN Med School class of 1958. But I saw very little of him after. I went overseas in the Air Force after my internship, and our paths, though both ending in California, were divergent. Walt was a feather in the grand Cornhusker cap. He was always looking out for the other guy. A classmate to be proud of. Walt lived and worked in California, but he was always a Nebraskan. That is the way it has been for me as well. All the best, and thank you for your piece on Walt. Duane A. Young, MD, Laguna Beach, California
Thank you so much for your column on Dr. Walt Reiss. He was the heart and soul of Northern Californians for Nebraska along with John Hay. I knew him well back in the 1990s when I lived in Sacramento. Many people do not know that he donated a considerable amount of time as a doctor to the homeless. He was also a major donor to the University. He was well known in Nebraska and one time we even had a sitting Nebraska Governor attend one of our events. Dr. Reiss had an unbelievable amount of positive energy, and he is a major reason why so many Nebraskans in Northern California were able to hear the Cornhuskers live on radio. Brad Zerbe, Scottsdale, Arizona
As usual, another fine article! Thank you again for the N-Sider on Dr. Reiss. Robert Lloyd, Ft. Myers Florida