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A life of hustling, volunteering, coaching, fishing: Remembering Bob Sadowski

Resized/Sun-Times

Bob Sadowski (red shirt in back right) volunteering with the Henry Palmisano Memorial Fishing Foundation at Palmisano Park.
Provided by Tom Palmisano

Bob Sadowski hustled, whether he was volunteering, fishing, coaching or working.

‘‘He would get there early,’’ oldest son Jeffrey remembered. ‘‘He would catch fish and keep them on the line. And [kids] would think they caught a fish and would be so excited.’’

The big man worked magic with little people.

Mr. Sadowski, 71, died unexpectedly Thursday of heart failure.

Born in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, his parish was St. Michael’s. He went to De La Salle, then enlisted in the military and was an Air Force mechanic in Hawaii. He and wife Marirose made a house in Bridgeport home for 50 years (they had just celebrated their golden anniversary) and raised three sons.

Jeffrey is the executive director of the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club. Mark, who started with Mike Ditka in New Orleans, is the director of college scouting for the Bears. Jonathan, who shared his father’s love of fishing, is an actor.

Mr. Sadowski became a traveling salesman. He volunteered with youth sports and helped with neighborhood ice rinks. He coached many children, including those of Chicago politicians, in baseball. John Daley was at the wake Monday.

Mr. Sadowski was a fishing instructor for the Chicago Park District. In recent years, he was the lead volunteer for the Henry Palmisano Memorial Fishing Foundation.

‘‘Countless children caught their first fish with the help of his guiding hands,’’ Tom Palmisano said. ‘‘While teaching children’s fishing, he would often search out and find the one child that would need help and work to brighten their day.’’

Watching Mr. Sadowski work an event made me think of a live bear hug.

‘‘He made everybody catch a fish and feel good about themselves,’’ Jeffrey said. ‘‘He inspired people to bring out the best in them. He might not know your name, but he would give you a nickname and make you feel like you won the Super Bowl.’’

Bob Sadowski (red shirt in the middle) working a youth outing at Palmisano Park.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

While Mr. Sadowski loved hunting and fishing, his coaching was about life. He coached all three sons and drilled fundamentals — and sportsmanship.

‘‘He taught us basic life skills like that,’’ Jeffrey said.

On weekends, Mr. Sadowski rousted his sons at 4 a.m. and made them hustle flea markets.

‘‘He taught us financial literacy, how to count money, how to say ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir,’ ’’ Jeffrey said. ‘‘We would work all day. At a young age, he instilled the need for responsibility and accountability.’’

His teaching continued to the end.

‘‘When he died, he was an organ and tissue donor, and he is still giving now that he is gone,’’ Jeffrey said.

In lieu of flowers, make donations to the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club (nbgc.org).

Sun-Times/Resized

Bob Sadowski prepping before an outing with the Henry Palmisano Memorial Fishing Foundation.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Wild things

The Great Backyard Bird Count (gbbc.birdcount.org) begins Friday.

Stray cast

The Sox signing Manny Machado or me catching a 40-pound Illinois muskie? Hmmm.