Last week I was at work in the throws of another busy day managing the controlled chaos of a week shortened by a holiday Monday. It seems like we end up doing all the work that could not get into the shop over the next few days after a holiday like Labor Day. I literally was in a hair-pulling moment when I turned around to see my friend Kevin standing in the service department looking at me. This was odd. Kevin and I normally hang out after work or make plans to meet somewhere. He had called me last week when his car would not start. He was sure it was a starter or alternator… I told him to jump it and check the battery. He said no problem, I’ll let you know.
When I saw him in the shop… We immediately started talking about the car and we went out to his Nissan and popped the hood. He told me something about Autozone and said clean the battery. Yadda yadda. In hindsight, it seems like a completely meaningless few minutes of talk. We DID spend some time talking about Aiden going to college and more about Summer and St. Jude. I wish I had a recording to remember what our last words were. They would be the last words we would ever speak to each other.
Thursday night I got home from a dinner meeting with a friend and was very excited because I knew that Summer was coming home from St. Jude and had decided to ACTUALLY come home! I looked down at my phone while unloading the car and saw an Instagram message from Josh Lanning. He has been on top of Summer’s journey and I figured his message was something about that. I am not trying to make drama here… But I was not ready for what Josh sent. He said that Kevin was dead. He didn’t have any other details.
I was (and am now as I think about it) overcome with confusion and horror. I looked at the message and leaned hard on my car. Should I just stay here and deal with this in the driveway? I could have, my knee about buckled and I started shaking. I decided to come inside and reached out to Kyle Wilkinson. Kevin and Kyle have been friends forever… I figured he could illuminate this. He did. He said he had been talking to Kevin’s ex-wife Amie and that Kevin had taken his life the night before. Kyle was super nice about talking me down off my “mental cliff” of missing an opportunity to talk and change Kevin’s mind.
That’s a lot of setup for me to talk about my friend Kevin.
We met somehow via the Harvest Cafe. When Harvest Cafe was just getting started in Delavan… The Beer Report was really getting into local food. On top of the great local food they were pouring craft beers and the staff was very friendly. Over a lot of visits, I got to know Kevin. I visited often and tried about everything on the menu whether on the dinner, lunch or brunch menus. We had large get-togethers that brought family from all over central Illinois to our new favorite place. Kevin was always the amazing host and eventually got to know my whole family. I remember talking to my Uncle Joe about Kevin and the restaurant and we declared it to be our American “Pub”. After traveling overseas with Joe and hitting the small town pubs that supplied food and companionship in small hamlets in the Cotswolds… Harvest was an easy comparison to that overseas environment.
Kevin loved having us come out and get involved with beer events and was happy to have us do some remote shows where we talked about the food and beers. I got to meet some amazing people and had a front-row seat to watch his command and presence with customers and staff. He WAS the ultimate host. He knew the food, beverages, and customers inside and out! There were very few surprises at the front of the house because he knew every inch of the restaurant and what was going on in it!
This went on for years. We always had a blast. Eventually, I would make solo trips to Delavan on my early days off just to hang with my buddy and chat. Yeah, it was kind of a bartender thing, but we were friends now. Every once and a while we would find ourselves out together in Peoria or I would run into him in the Heights. We always had a laugh.
Eventually, the drama of Harvest came to a full head. It was ironic that we did our Mr. Beer Challenge tasting event at Harvest when we did… Because Kevin told me that he had just been informed that they were shutting down the restaurant. We attempted to video and make a production out of that final judging with Kevin and Kyle, but the sting of the closure was not making it easy to celebrate. I was torn up. Eventually, The Exchange, a sister property to Harvest closed as well in a hasty fashion that deserves a whole dedicated story someday.
It all worked out eventually. Kevin moved to the big new “foodie” restaurant in Morton… Seasons Gastropub. I was super excited… Seasons Menu had not changed in years and we had stopped going because of the lack of interest. Kevin was super pumped… As he always was about the opportunities to tune up the menu and bring some new ideas in. I was stoked as well!
While he was there, he got Summer a job as a hostess and we made it an effort to go in almost weekly to embarrass her. I again made a point of stopping in and visiting him at Seasons whenever I slipped out early. Eventually, and it wasn’t that long after he had been at seasons, he told me that he had been talking to the Rassi family about a job running the food and beverage department at Hopedale Medical Complex. I was shocked. “You are going to get up and drive that every day from Peoria Heights?” He told me that this was going to be the best thing for having a family and he was never going to work in a bar again. (Seasons never let him change much on that menu BTW!)
HMC (Hopedale Medical Complex) turned into a lot of fun. Kevin invited Mike Fort and me down for lunch in the cafe on burger day. He was so impressed with the food they were making and actually wanted locals to come in and eat there as well (That restaurant guy was hard to kill inside his head). It was good and I still remember how tickled he was that we came down and ate at his “cafe”. Kevin also brought food trucks to Hopedale for the staff and it was at one of these events that I got to meet his second wife Jennifer. I remember standing there talking outside the hospital eating some Mexican corn and marveling at his charisma with the staff and other friends he had invited to enjoy the outdoor dining that day. He was a treat to watch when in action.
Kevin got my son Aiden his first job. Aiden worked in the dish room at HMC from the time he got a license to till he left to go to college. Having that steady job has given him a great sense of responsibility and also made him several friends. Having this job also helped some of Aiden’s other friends get their first jobs as well.
I do not know all the circumstances… But about 6 months ago everything came crashing down at HMC. Aiden told me that Kevin no longer worked there. I gave it a few days to see if he would let me know what was going on. I eventually texted him and he called me back. We talked for a long time. We have talked a lot since then and he has updated me on his job hunt ever since.
I remember on a dark day of my own sending him a text and saying, “Let’s start a restaurant” because I was sure I was done with the car business a few years ago and he told me in no uncertain terms that he was not going back to that lifestyle. His daughter Avery was priority #1 at that time and a little later, he was sure that his goal was to move south with Jennifer and the girls. He did not want to be tied down to a business like Harvest again.
Like I said when I started this, we had been talking a lot recently. He talked to me about his job at i3 Broadband. He (in his super pumped way) was telling me about what he was doing on the job and wanted to know if I could give him any insight into my rural broadband initiatives. I was really hoping he was liking this job… But I knew he was blowing smoke up my ass. He told me he was bartending in East Peoria on weekends as well. He confided in me that he was fighting for unemployment from HMC as well. Money was obviously tight and I know that because he swore he would never go back to that kind of work again.
I did not know about any problems he was having… Because he would never tell you that stuff. He was absolutely going to ask me about the kids and Mr. Fort and my brother etc. We would tell stories about some of the mutual characters in our lives, but nothing ever got dark. Shame on me for that. I knew he smoked too much. I knew he drank too much. Many times when I would leave Harvest of any other soiree we were both at… I knew he wanst leaving for a while. I think back now about a few times when I had to head home, I left him at a bar talking to other friends we knew from our similar circles. I adult differently than he adults? Right? We are all different? Should I have been that guy who told him it was time to go home? We hung out every couple of months so I don’t think I was going to have that profound of an influence on his decision-making. And, did I think this was a sign of a problem? No, I just thought this was Kevin.
How could I slow down my buddy and say “let’s just sit down and talk about life… for real”? When we got together it was happy fun time. That’s what I was looking forward to! Some laughs with a good guy who could appreciate a local tenderloin and a good IPA.
I’m sorry we didn’t have any of those real conversations. So many people loved him that I have to believe nobody had a chance to ever to get the real Kevin or this tragedy would have never happened.
I was very pissed at him earlier this weekend for what he did. I am still pissed at what he leaves for Avery, Amie and Jennifer her girls. This is nothing but a mess and will continue to be so for a long time. I don’t believe his daughter could ever be better off without him. I am sure his parents, ex-wife Amie and Jennifer feel the same way. My buddy Phil went through a similar event in his life when his wife killed herself two years ago. He said that everyone wants someone to blame. The finger-pointing is not easy because it requires everyone to look in a mirror and understand where their place is in this story. Myself included. Ultimately, after all the hand wringing and crying, Kevin is whos to blame and that’s the sad awful truth.
There is a Catholic Mass this Friday that I am planning on going to… There is also a get-together “wake” in Bartonville on Saturday. I initially thought about putting together a fundraiser for Avery with the beer nerds but I have to be completely honest in saying that a fundraiser with booze has a bad ring to it for me. This horrendous event is not going to stop me from having a drink ever again… But it’s going to make me more conscious of those who cant stop. I would be willing to “go dry” as a fundraiser as well. That has a better vibe to it for me.
I would offer this… to anyone who is game. Who wants to sit down and tell Kevin stories on the Microphone while not drinking a drop of alcohol? I will travel with the microphone or host it here at my house in Tremont. But would anyone be up to that challenge?
We could then box these stories up and share them with his family so that they can know of the legacy he left with all the people he affected.
I assure you… Its a lot of people and I know they all hurt as I do right now.
God bless you, Kevin. Thank you for everything you did for me, my kids, and my family. I still hate you for what you did, but I will get past that someday. I will treasure your memory always.
I have made a few edits… I did not mean to exclude Avery’s Mom and Kevin’s Ex-wife from the blog. I just don’t really know her. When I say his “family” it should be assumed she is part of that. I have met his wife Jennifer a few times and obviously, she is who I think of first when thinking of those hurt most.
This is not a news report… Its a blog post from my perspective and feelings. Not about anyone else’s.