a friend for life

Jono Bot passed away last week.  I knew him my whole life.

He was gregarious and genuine and generous.  He could tell stories like no one else.  Not jokes, but stories about the roller coaster of life.  There may have been some embellishment along the way, but I was always amazed at how accurately he remembered things from our youth.  I figured it was because he started telling the stories right away and never let up.

We got ourselves into trouble from time to time, and I’ll miss his recitations of those exploits.  (No, I’m not going to relate them here, even though the statute of limitations must have passed by now.)  Our parents were friends; their reactions to the mischief lived on in Jono’s retellings too.

He had a bunch of boyhood buddies like me, but we were just the start of the club, which grew ever larger as the years passed.  People were drawn to Jono and his infectious spirit.  Each of us knew that we had a friend for life.

Jono was the life of the party (actually, it often seemed like he was the party), but it wasn’t to draw attention to himself like many others do.  It was to help us enjoy our time together.

Shortly after he passed, I received one of those daily inspirational emails, which contained a quote from Esther Perel:  “The quality of our relationships is what determines the quality of our lives.”  Jono knew that instinctively.

In early 2016, the day after I had my final radiation treatment, I was at a concert with Jono and a bunch of other friends.  I wasn’t feeling the greatest, but I could look down the row at Jono and see his arms jabbing at the air above him and his head thrown back, with a look of ecstasy on his face.

He loved music.  (He did, after all, have a long-running music festival that bore his name.)  And he was singing along in joy to whatever tunes were playing even as his body was failing him.  So many of my memories of Jono revolve around music; I know they will be triggered throughout the rest of my life when I hear certain songs.  (I included some of them over the weekend as part of my daily musical interludes on Twitter.)

Six months after that concert, Jono found out he had multiple myeloma.  Shortly thereafter the Argus Leader had a lengthy article about his impending stem cell transplant and the difficult road ahead.  The headline and subheading in the print edition captured the essence, “The Inspiring Journey of Jono: Tough break doesn’t keep bar & grill owner in Sioux Falls from bringing smiles to others.”

That was Jono.

After that grueling treatment, a benefit was held to honor him.  When he walked in, the hundreds of people there stood and cheered and cheered.  While he was very weak, he kept working the room, probably longer than he should have, trying to be with every one of us.

“He went into the right business,” someone said after his funeral, a bit more than two years after he was diagnosed.  He was born to make people happy and gathered friends around him no matter their station in life.

It’s no wonder that the large church was packed, that the visitation the day before was very busy, and that, during the final celebration in Botski’s (his bar) and a tent erected outside of it, you could hardly move because of all the people.

The back of his funeral program had a picture of Jono at his backyard grill.  Below it was a photo of “Jono’s top-secret Jack Daniel’s Marinade Recipe,” which for some reason was scrawled onto a soiled elementary school lunch menu from 1989.  He was never one to put on airs.

At the visitation, I ran into someone who was going through treatment when Jono was.  Sometimes their schedules would intersect and they would be in infusion chairs at the same time.  He said, “I knew if Jono was there it was going to be a good day.”

That’s the effect he had.  If you were with Jono, it was always a good day.

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