Three Angeli siblings remember their oldest brother
Burt Angeli: April 14, 1954-April 9, 2020
This originally was posted on Burt Angeli’s Facebook page by his brother, Jamie Angeli —
I want to say a few words about a brother who has been nothing but a role model to me and an example of how one should lead their life and how you should treat others. There were milestones in my life that I can often easily attribute to my older siblings but being in the basketball profession, it usually involved my brother, Burt.
When I was young, my favorite sports teams were always shaped by who my brothers would follow; it felt like the smart thing to do. To this day when someone tells me, “You only like the Lakers and Yankees because they are winners,” I can agree somewhat. But the real reason is because my older brothers loved them, so I wanted to be a just like them! Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson were people I worshiped because of them. That love for the Yankees and Lakers have never left me.
When I was young, we were fortunate to live near Milwaukee, Wis., and it was then my brothers Chris and Burt introduced me to NBA basketball and the Milwaukee Bucks. Countless trips to Milwaukee to watch the Bucks as a youngster, staying at the Marc Plaza Hotel — my brothers would later sponsor my summer league basketball teams under the name Marc Plaza, to the confusion of all my teammates. I was probably in fifth or sixth grade when I attended my first Bucks game. I will never forget leaving the hotel room without permission on one particular trip. I meet a man in the elevator who asked me if I would like to meet Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin “Pocket Rocket” Murphy from the Houston Rockets, the Bucks’ opponent that evening. I didn’t think twice about accepting his offer (yes parents, I get it now). A few moments later, I was at a hotel room getting autographs. I think I might have broken several land-speed records racing back to the hotel room to tell my brothers. As you can imagine, Burt was about ready to take my head off.
I then began a new love of following the Milwaukee Bucks … John McGlocklin, Lew Alcindor and a handful of years later, Marques Johnson, just to name a few. I remember calling back to brother Burt, beaming with pride, when I had the opportunity years later to meet and get to know Marques and his family while on the basketball staff at UCLA.
Fast-forward to my high school basketball career, with brother Burt as the main sports columnist in the area covering many of my games. This part is hard for me to write, because it speaks volumes to the type of person my brother was and for the unconditional love and support he has always given me throughout my life. I can only imagine how much Burt struggled with every kind word he would write about me as a player and later a coach for fear of hearing about nepotism from the area readers. He wrote about me anyway, in the way he always did it best, with a little bit of honesty, humor and humility — but always with humor — and it left me waiting to see what he would write next, good or bad. He once wrote in his weekly column, and I can write it now almost verbatim, “For those area coaches looking to stop Jamie Angeli on the basketball court, consider leaving a large pizza with all the trimmings at half court, that should keep him away from either basket!” I always respected and appreciated his comedic wit and writing style, regardless of whether or not I was the punch line. At the end of the day, I knew there was nobody in that gym that supported me more than my brother Burt. With every award given to me by the U.P. sportswriters, he was always first to call and tell me. I would not have wanted to hear it any other way or from anyone else.
Fast-forward to my college basketball playing career at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was difficult for Burt to follow my collegiate career, given his ungodly work hours covering every sport in the U.P. and northeast Wisconsin. I will never forget the one game he did attend. We were playing at our archrival, UW-Eau Claire. The gym was packed that night and I had no idea where my brother ended up sitting, until I had a chance to watch the locally televised game film a few days later. As I scored a basket, in a gym filled to the rafters, I managed to find brother Burt in camera shot, standing in a group of Eau Claire fans near the entrance on the right baseline. On every basket I made, I could see Burt raise a fist in the air and pump it a few times as if to say, “That’s my little brother!” I will never, ever forget those images. Never.
Fast-forward to my coaching career that finds me back in the Upper Peninsula. With coaching stops first at Kingsford High School and then a handful of years later at Norway High School, I again had brother Burt behind me every step of the way. I will never forget the press conference in C.B. Hedgecock Fieldhouse after a disappointing loss in the regional semifinals. I was seated in front of several sportswriters, unbeknownst to them that I had coached my last game at Norway High School and was preparing to accept an offer from Steve Lavin to join his basketball staff at UCLA. Being an emotional Italian, of course I had trouble speaking without my voice cracking or on the verge of all-out tears. I managed to look at my brother Burt, pen and paper in hand, and I could see he was hurting for me and hated that he had to do his job that particular evening. I was grateful he was there, as he offered up some questions to take the focus away from the end of the season and back on some of the happier moments and milestones we achieved that season. That was my brother Burt, doing what he always did best, protecting his younger brother.
Fast forward to just a few days ago, as my brother announced to the Facebook community he would be signing off the internet for good due to the progression of his cancer and entering hospice care with the love and support of his wife Gina (for whom we are so grateful). It was time for me to say goodbye to my big brother. It was without question the hardest phone call I have ever had to make. It didn’t last long, as I found myself having trouble getting the words out through many tears. I was able to tell him how much everyone loved him, but more importantly, how much I loved him. He said he had a good life and it was time to go. He told me he loved me and the call was over. I don’t think if I spent five hours on the phone I could have adequately thanked him for all that he has meant to me in my life, both personally and professionally. I can only hope “I love you” was enough (trust me, words not used often enough in our tough Italian family).
I just recently learned that Burt had won an award for a story he wrote about the 1989 Florence High School boys basketball state championship team. Burt would probably have never told me about this award, or any other award for that matter. During our infrequent phone calls, he would only ask me how I was doing or if there was another stop left in my coaching career. His managing editor at the Daily News, Betsy Bloom, was kind enough to tell me a few days ago that “Burt has always drawn attention to what he covered, not to himself. It’s a trait all reporters would do well to emulate.” Thank you for that, Betsy. That was my brother Burt, caring more about the lives of others and their successes more than his own. I don’t know if I have ever met a more selfless person.
I would like to close by thanking everyone for the kind words you left about Burt on more than a few Facebook posts. It meant the world to me to know his tireless work for the sports community for so many years was appreciated. I would also like to close with a special request … and I have no idea how to make it happen but I hope you can help me, Mike Ludlum. If there is any way you could find it in your heart to champion an effort to have my brother Burt recognized with either an annual media or U.P. Sports Hall of Fame award, I would be eternally grateful. Excuse my bias, but at the moment I cannot think of a more deserving person (other than yourself, of course!).
Rest in peace, dear brother Burt.
This originally was posted on Facebook by Burt’s brother, Chris Angeli:
My time with Burt was growing up together and being roomies in our home on Seventh Street. We had a great view of the neighborhood that created so many instantaneous, highly competitive games of basketball, baseball or football. We just seemingly had to walk outside and we were able to find enough cousins and friends to get a game going. Burt and I were not always on the same team, but it was about competition, caring and the fun. We cared about winning, but it was always more about being together.
Let me state for the record, I believe Burt would like to know that someone revealed this, but he was a very good athlete. Despite the disadvantage of wearing braces on his legs from his bout with polio when he was very young, by the time he reached middle school, he was as good or better than any of us in any sport. When he reached high school, he added golf to his sports interest in playing on the varsity team. I remember the early morning walks from our home on Seventh Street as his faithful supportive caddy to the country club where they allowed him to play for free as a member of the team. I learned to like the game from him and I inherited his clubs and passed that interest on to my kids when their time came. I have enjoyed many rounds of golf, love and camaraderie with my boys thanks to Burt and lessons from their Aunt Gina.
His greatest disappointment in sports unknowingly led to his career path. Burt was a good basketball player in high school. He tried out for the varsity team my junior year, in which we had our downstate tournament run. He should have made the team — he was good enough and deserved to — but didn’t. He turned that disappointment into writing about sports for the school paper and never looked back. And the rest, they say, is history. He turned that rejection into a long, distinguished career of covering and writing about the sports he loved. Burt had a devotion to sports and the many teams he covered. He knew no matter what sport, school or gender, like all of us, they want to be noticed. He made sure they got their due, got their space and as all parents know, it’s great to see your kid’s name in the paper for their accomplishments. He was even able to get my children’s names in his columns, even though we never lived in the same area. Thank you, Burt!
There are so many feelings and stories I could relate to all of you about Burt and our family, of mom and dad, Penny, Rex and Jamie, but let me mention just a few. Getting called to the store from dad when barely old enough to ride our bikes, saying he had some work for us to do. That started with sorting bottles in the store basement and never ended until we left for college. I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything. Buying sports cards at the store, riding our bikes halfway home, stopping to open the packs, chewing the gum and sharing the excitement of getting a player we hadn’t collected.
So many trips to the farm and to the lake on warm summer days, riding our minibikes and being together with aunts, uncles and cousins. All the Brewer/Yankee games we went to during the down years to finally enjoy the return of the championships seasons. Going to so many Packer games with dad and his friends, taking along our cousins and our friends, even the championship games, and yes, even the “Ice Bowl.”
Riding in a bus from Ironwood, Michigan, to DePere, Wisconsin, to visit him at St. Norbert College for a great weekend hanging with him and his buddies. Got to see my first concert, the Nitty Gritty Dirt band! Listening to Yankee games on the radio at night with a magical transistor radio that could pull in, sporadically, the Schenectady, New York station that carried the games, even defying mom and dad when told to go to bed.
There are so many more that keep coming to mind and I feel I am not doing justice to my memory of him and our life together, but I am going to finish with two stories about him that I personally like and attest to how he lived.
The first was when he was attending St. Norbert and visiting a nearby store when a young guy had apparently stolen something and was threatening the owner of the store. It was about to escalate into an altercation, so Burt stepped in, wrapped his arms around the young guy and held him there for a moment and then, in Burt’s words, threw him to the side like a sack of potatoes. The guy then got up and ran out the door. Because of his upbringing and who he was, he reacted in a way he felt was the right thing to do.
My other story is about one of the proudest school memories and one that may seem totally unlike him yet somehow fitting. There was a bully in school, about the fifth or sixth grade, that was always working us over and berating us, presumably for being an Angeli and not part of a dysfunctional family as was his own. This kid was big and beefy and always on Burt’s case for one thing or another. Finally Burt had enough and told him after school he would meet him across the street and end this once and for all. I was very afraid for Burt; we were not fighters. When the news of the upcoming fight got out, there were a large group of kids already waiting when school ended. My actions reminded me of St. Peter, who denied knowing Christ before he got hauled away. I was sure he was going to get the crap kicked out of him and wanted to steer clear of any fallout. I watched from a distance, not wanting to witness the carnage up close. The fight didn’t last 10 seconds. Do you remember the scene in “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie finally hammered the bully? That was Burt and his bully. He pounded him so bad, the bully yelled for Burt to stop! I was proud of Burt for standing up for himself when he knew the consequences might prove disastrous. His friends actually picked him up and carried him away on their shoulders! I should’ve been there, but I held back, being fearful of what might happen. I wish I had been there for you more in the last days to make up for that, to carry you off on my shoulders. But believe me, all your family and friends were there in some way or another, carrying you off once again.
Thank you for being a great brother and a fine uncle to my children. You and Gina were fine examples of living life to all of us. I am so proud of you, and to my other brothers and sister as well, of the life you have lived.
Rest in peace, brother Burt.
This originally was posted on Burt’s Facebook page by his sister, Penny Angeli:
Burt was the oldest in the family, ahead of me by three years. He would have been 66 this coming Tuesday. So many memories, especially time spent together in our childhood. Like my younger brothers, I looked up to both Burt and Chris. I loved the Lakers and the Yankees because of them. Who they followed, I followed. We siblings spent many a late Saturday night after our parents had gone to bed, watching All-Star wrestling. Their favorites were my favorites. Burt was the brother who was always up for board games with me. Stratego, that buzzing football game where the guys moved down the field by vibration, baseball games. Mom usually joined in when we played “Jeopardy!”
My brother Burt was really quite something. He was kind, thoughtful, humorous, private, quirky and humble. I will never forget him surprising me at Rochester/Mayo Clinic when I was diagnosed with cancer and started chemo in the summer of 2018. I asked if he was there for a medical appointment and he said no, he was there to support his sister. Tears then, tears now. As for humble, I just found out he won a Michigan statewide first-place sports writing award last year. My brothers weren’t aware of it, either — he hadn’t mentioned it to any of us.
Before ending this note, I have to express tremendous gratitude from our family to Burt’s wife, Gina. She has been his rock for over 30 years, standing by him and taking care of him through more than one life-threatening health crisis. Thank you, Gina, we love you.
Thank you for indulging me in my musings about my brother. I just wish I had told Burt how much I admired him. He already knew how much I loved him.