“How about those Hawks!” This was the typical greeting I shared with Kurt from 2014 to sometime in 2016. Although, I will admit there could be an expletive thrown in there on occasion. It was loud, it definitely wasn’t “P.C.”, and it took on several forms (“…Cubs!”, “Can you believe those…. Bears!”). I missed it when his voice faded away while Kurt was still here and I, of course, miss it even more now that Kurt is no longer with us.
Kurt Bushno joined Asphalt Operating Services of Chicago at the beginning of operations in 2011 as a Rail Helper. At the time he was on the plus side of 50 yrs. old. Everyone here knows that when we are moving a significant quantity of cars through the Facility, this position can be “challenging” from a physical perspective. After one season’s worth of work, 30 and 40 somethings are the first in line to volunteer for another role if it becomes available. When I stepped into the management role of the Facility in late 2013, it quickly became clear that the 20 somethings needed to pay attention to what Kurt was doing so they could step up their game.
We are a relatively small group, with responsibility for a significant amount of equipment and product, in a facility that operates 24/7 – 365 days a year. Thankfully, my predecessors established a facility culture that I was able to pick up and continue; we demand a lot from our team because it is required but the environment can’t be too stiff. We all must work, but we need to have a little fun and get along with each other. Kurt fit into the atmosphere perfectly. A couple examples from those who knew him better than I did:
“Let’s face it, no one expects to develop a meaningful, impactful friendship after working somewhere for just 1 ½ years, but Kurt’s presence was gravitating. Having a bad day? He would find a way to make you forget about it. Dragging your feet coming into a long night of loading cars? Just seeing Kurt would put a little spring back in your step because it wasn’t going to be that bad.”
“This is Kurt: we are at the end of a long winter night, we’ve loaded 30 something railcars and then spent an hour or two shoveling snow so we are taking a little break in the lunchroom. In bursts Kurt, and at the top of his lungs he yells, “C’mon let’s go load another 10 cars!” Out the door he goes, like everyone is supposed to fall in line behind him. All we could do was stare at each other in disbelief and amusement. Of course, someone would be sure to yell back just before the door closed, “Sit down old man!”15-20 minutes later we’d begin to wonder if he really did head back out to the rail even though we were done there. No, we found him shoveling the dusting of snow that had fallen on the sidewalk outside even though we had just shoveled it an hour before.”
We have shared all of this so that anyone who may be reading knows by now that Kurt was one of the “good ones”. The next chapter of the story is where Kurt proved that he was even more.
First sign for me came one evening in early 2016 although it didn’t register as that until months later. I stepped into the lunch room briefly around shift change and Kurt was talking with several other employees as one crew was preparing to leave, and his team was coming on for the night shift. As I left the room I paused and reflected on what I just heard. There was a noticeable slurring in some of Kurt’s speech. If I didn’t know any better, it almost sounded like he had spent the afternoon at the bar… nah, I knew that couldn’t be it. Months went by, and additional small changes were noticed. Our typical greeting had faded away and it was becoming clear that Kurt was avoiding interaction with me as much as possible. Finally, Kurt confided with his Team Leader and that Leader eventually shared with me that Kurt had been seeing his doctor for a couple of months trying to figure out what was wrong. Although it wasn’t official, at that point, it was likely that he was going to be diagnosed with ALS in the very near future. His biggest concern… was losing his job.
Kurt was extraordinary. This is what I will share when someone I know needs a reminder of what perseverance looks like. Work hard, play hard. Kurt had lived by this wonderfully simple motto for all his adult life. Not continuing to work hard was equivalent to not living his life as he wanted to. Despite his diagnosis and what most likely lie ahead, he didn’t want to quit, he didn’t want to lose his job, he needed to work. We committed to each other to work together, continuing to find ways for Kurt to continue working until he couldn’t persevere anymore, and that is just what he did.
Kurt passed away exactly one year ago today, November 4, 2017. We could go into details of just how difficult it was for Kurt to continue, or how stubborn he was about not asking for help, or how sad it was to witness the devastating effects of ALS on a man who worked circles around “kids” half his age. However, that isn’t why we are sharing this story with you today. Today, we remember the inspiration Kurt provided to all who knew him; continue to live your life to the fullest no matter the challenges that may come your way.
In addition to remembrance and celebration of an extraordinary life, we also would like to announce the creation of the “AOSC/Kurt Bushno Scholarship” for the City of Colleges of Chicago/Olive-Harvey College. The hope is that we can honor the memory of our inspiring “work family” member by supporting our neighbors who are working to better themselves no matter their own challenges.
We’ll never forget you, “Bush”.
On behalf of the entire “AOSC Family” – Eric Darlinger (Facility Manager)
City Colleges of Chicago scholarship website-
The ALS Association Greater Chicago Area website-