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MY father, Johnny Carson, and Malcolm X were all born in Nebraska in 1925. The similarities pretty much stop there.
One of the many differences is that my dad, Verlon K. Vrana, was named after a Nebraska State Fair prize-winning pig.
Happily, Dad picked up a nickname. Somewhere along the line, people started calling him “Tony.” My Grandpa Vrana’s name was Anton, and everybody knew him as Tony. My dad looked like Grandpa and soon was given the same moniker.
Dad grew up in a farm family in rural Seward County, Neb., during the Great Depression. They were poor in material things but rich in spirit.
The first job that Dad worked for any length of time was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The lowest starting point now in federal government service is a GS-1. Dad started below that and rose to one of the top jobs in SCS.
After 32 years with the agency, he retired in 1980 at the age of 55. End of story? Oh, no.
Dad took up golf when he retired. Now, he occasionally shoots his age.
Dad is also wrapping up his third and final four-year term on the Seward City Council.
And he blogs every day. His blog always has a nice, short story and a picture. My kind of blog.
Dad has given me plenty of advice over the years. One of my favorites was when I was about 12 or so. He said, “Tim, I’m going to tell you the same thing that my Grandma Walker told me when I was about your ag . She said, ‘Buddy Boy, you gotta be pretty smart to be a crook. And you’re just not smart enough. So you’d better go straight.’”
He’s also been very encouraging at difficult times, like the night I went 1-for-8 from the floor and my basketball team lost. He told me that if I just took one step closer to the basket, I would be in my range. Or the night the jury came back with a disappointing verdict in my first jury trial. He said, “You’ve done something that not many people can say they’ve done. And nobody can ever take that away from you.” In both situations, things went much better after his encouragement.
Dad is a fun guy, too. He has all kinds of stories to tell. Like when he went on a business trip to the Virgin Islands, long after the four kids had left the nest. He reported that he took my mom along to get her recycled.
Dad and I have always shared a love for sports. He played basketball in high school and baseball at the semi-pro level, and those were the two sports that I played.
Throughout my life, we have been to a ton of baseball and basketball games together. In 1993, when I was 41 and he was 68, he and I learned more about life and each other, and enjoyed a lot of baseball to boot, when we went on an 11-day road trip in which we saw games in 10 different major league baseball stadiums and worked in a little time at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. We did a similar but much shorter trip nine years later with my son, Tony.
I realize that not all of my father’s decisions have been good ones. He’s human, after all. But most of his decisions have been correct. His best was marrying Mom.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.
Tim Vrana, of Columbus, is a community columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed above are those of the writer.
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