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Making Up for Lost Time

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Your blank screen mocks you and the tower of unopened mail pulls at your coat, and you wonder why you didn't go into the insurance business.

And you check in on your snoring 19-year-old son, home from college, and he's rounding noon and heading toward one and you wonder how you missed the typhoon that came through his room.

And so you trudge back to your desk and open a letter. And when you've finished, you go down, kiss your son on the forehead and wonder how you ever got so lucky.

Dear Mr. Reilly or whomever might take the time to read this:

I am not much of a writer, but since about 1996 I have wanted to nominate this kid for FACES IN THE CROWD

I should have started with all the junior golf tournaments he won at ages six to 10. I should have sent in something when he was written up as a golf prodigy in our paper at age 12. I should have sent insomething when he got two holes in one in the summer after eighth grade.

I should have nominated him for being a three-time state qualifier and holding most all individual scoring records at his high school.

I should have sent in many of his wrestling accomplishments ... but I'm having trouble remembering everything.

This young man was my very best friend. We were golfing partners for 16 years. You see, this young man was my son.

He was killed in a motorcycle accident.

So what I am doing to honor him is to nominate Cory Lemke for FACES IN THE CROWD Cory's real accomplishments were being the best friend a guy could ask for, the most loving and best son a father could ask for and a truly gentle and loving kid with the greatest smile in these United States.

I don't know how I will cope without him. I hurt so much, and I miss him so much, just to talk to or watch sports together. God, I loved that boy so much!!

Please accept this nomination!!

Mark Lemke -- Cory's Father

You call him. He's a 51-year-old truck driver in Sheldon, Iowa. He's on the road four or five days a week, just him and his rig and his sorrow.

Even on the phone, you can tell he's one of those tough guys who's not used to fighting off tears. And you can hear that he's losing.

He tells you how he and Cory played golf together every day they could -- "thousands of rounds," he says -- kidded each other endlessly and then, when it got dark or cold, played video golf together or watched the Vikings or just shot the bull. How his son gave him 16 shots the last time they played and still took $20 off the old man.

He remembers telling the kid that night, July 7, as Cory left to go to a car show in Hull, "Get some sleep, buddy. You gotta play tomorrow." And later: the phone ringing and the sickening cry in his wife Maud's voice from the kitchen, moaning, "Is he dead?"

He didn't even wait to see what it was, he just sprinted to his car and floored it to Hull. But he couldn't get there fast enough because Cory was as good as dead the second he hit that van. "No brain activity at all," the doctor said. Great idea. Let me test-drive your motorcycle. No helmet. Kids.

The next morning they unplugged the respirator. On the way home he picked up his cell and played Cory's last message -- "Got us a tee time Sunday over at Spencer," Cory says. "Let's leave at 7:30. Gonna kick your butt."

God, that Sunday morning came down hard on the big truck driver. He just sat in his chair, numb, like somebody'd cut off his arms. And Maud walked in, tears pooling in her eyes, holding out the car keys. "You better go," she whispered. "He'd want you to."

And he did. He pulled his two-ton heart out of that chair and mummy-walked through 18 holes, because buddies don't let each other down. And all the way he ached about all the things he never said or did for his son.

And later on he took out his pen and paper and fixed one of them.

Cory Lemke
Lemke, 19, was named Newcomer of the Year at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. At 14 he won his flight at the World Amateur in Myrtle Beach, S.C., beating 75 others from ages 25 to 49. On July 2 he had a 65, playing with his father.

Photograph courtesy of Lemke family

Issue date: August 21, 2006