It was a typical boys’ basketball game at Iola-Scandinavia High School in December as the Thunderbirds hosted Stevens Point Pacelli.
T-Bird player Alec Lund had one special guest in the crowd; 97-year-old Robert Douglass.
Lund and Douglass met through a mutual friend, Nora Vandenbush, a certified nursing assistant at the Iola Living Assistance, where Douglass lives.
“Some of the residents had colds, so they all were staying in their rooms,” Vandenbush said. “I thought it would be a nice treat to come in and visit with all of them since they hadn’t gone to activities or had a lot of social interaction for a while.”
Vandenbush, along with her sister, Amy, and Lund set out to do just that.
“My sister and I painted the women’s nails while Alec was going to chat with the men,” she said.
Lund, however, only made it to Douglass’ room and the two formed an immediate bond.
“Robert has led an incredible life,” Lund said. “He has plenty of great stories and experiences that he likes to share with me.”
Douglass enjoys the companionship as well.
“It makes me feel good that Alec makes the time for me,” he said. “He is a great kid.”
Douglass, who also played basketball, surprised Lund at their game.
“Robert, what are you doing here?” Lund asked.
Douglass’ answer was quite simple.
“Well, I came to watch you play,” he said.
With a smile on his face, Lund headed to the locker room to get ready for the game.
“I am so glad that I got to surprise Alec,” Douglass said. “It was nice to get out and see a game. He played very well for the time he was in.”
Basketball has definitely changed since Douglass played.
“The game is at a much faster pace now,” he said. “Back in my day, I could have given Alec a run for his money in a game of one-on-one, but now I am not sure if I would be able to keep up.”
He also offered Lund some advice as well.
“I told him he shouldn’t be rated on how many baskets he makes, but how well he does what his coaches tell him,” he said. “Never get a big head, work hard and always play with a lot of heart.”
Lund admits that having Douglass at his game was a good feeling.
“I was happy to see Robert, as always,” he said. “It was nice to see him having fun watching the game.”
The life lessons Lund is learning from his new friendship go beyond the basketball court.
“I have learned a ton from Robert,” he said. “He has given me advice for basketball, my job, my future and even some useful advice about money and investing.”
He recalled one story that Douglass shared with him.
“One that really stands out to me is a story about when Robert attended UW-Stout,” he said. “He ended up making hot dogs in pressure cookers during a science class. Instead of getting in trouble, the dean had a job offer for him. It shows that you never know what the future has in store for you.”
Douglass has learned from Lund as well.
“In talking with Alec, I am learning how to get along with a young guy,” he said. “He already has had some interesting life stories, even at his young age. We talk about my past, his future and just about everything in between.”
Douglass, however, remained pretty tight-lipped about exactly what those stories were all about.
“He has told me those stories in confidence,” he said. “I would not want to ruin that.”
Douglass and Lund plan on continuing their friendship.
“Alec comes to visit me when he has time,” Douglass said. “I will always make time for him. He is a good person and is getting along very well in life.”
Lund said Douglass will always be a part of his life as well.
Following graduation, Lund has aspirations of studying to be a police officer.
“If this is what he wants to do, I think that is good,” Douglass said. “I have faith in Alec. I know he is going to be successful in whatever he does.”
Douglass appreciates the fact that Lund has faith in him and the advice that he has given.
“He believes in me, which is a good feeling,” Douglass said. “I enjoy that kid more than he will ever know.”
Lund believes in Douglass as well.
“I hope Robert is aware that every story he tells me is advice that I will use in my life,” he said.
According to Douglass, Lund is proof that there are good kids out there.
“Not just anyone would make time for an old man like me,” he said. “I hope he knows how very proud I am of him. He will go far.”