By Jim Cogdal
“Hey, Al, how’s it going?”
“Good. How are you?”
“Doin’ pretty good, Al, doin’ pretty good.”
That was my first conversation – and once I think about it, the beginning of every conversation – I had on the phone with Al Rostello, the longtime outdoor writer for the NewsTribune.
Al and I talked almost every day. Mostly because he was the most detail-oriented man I have ever met, wanting to correct any minor imperfection or any misplaced word in his popular outdoor column.
Every day until the day his article ran, he would remind me to make those minuscule alterations, calling as early as 6:30 a.m. to make sure everything was ideal when the column ran every other Saturday.
“Now this is very important, Jim,” he would say.
The rather lengthy conversations we had would usually end in his talking about any of the national sports Al knew so much about – college basketball, pro football, Major League Baseball.
“Sorry to bother you, Jim,” he would say at the end, even though his calls made me happy to know a person of his character and personality.
I miss those phone calls from Al.
Rostello, 66, passed away Thursday night in his home in Spring Valley after a long battle with cancer.
The disease may have taken its toll on him physically the past few years, but I can assure you, it never touched his will to live, down to the final hunt.
“He loved what he did. He loved hunting. He loved fishing,” said former NewsTribune sports editor Jackie Pokryfke, who worked with Rostello while at the N-T from 2000-07. “He loved to pass along his knowledge to everyone in the area.”
Al could really talk about anything, and thankfully for me, his expertise came in the outdoors.
From the first day we spoke on the phone almost three years ago, Al knew that I didn’t know the difference between a waterfowl and a technical foul, but he took the time to make sure I understood.
Soon enough, dove and deer harvests, North and South zones made sense to me, and what a good teacher.
When it comes to the outdoors, whether it be fishing or hunting, around here, the name “Al Rostello” in the sportsman world was as familiar as that of John Wooden of college hoops.
He was that well-known.
“He was a good character, I’ll say that for him,” said “Baitshop” Bob Henning, who gave Rostello tips for his column on where to fish for success. “He always kind of quizzed me every day whenever he would come in about the Illinois River, what’s going on and about the I&M Canal.”
Al did everything he could for his readers. He guided them in all the right directions.
He wrote about the different hunting excursions he went on across the state and the nation, not only in our newspaper, but for a number of other publications like Buckmaster, Fur, Fish and Game, and Adventure Sports Outdoors to name a few.
If you get a chance, Google his name and see what comes up.
To no big surprise, most of the different online postings revolve around the outdoors, including “Time for Bushytails at Spoon River State Forest,” which was picked up by ESPN.com’s outdoors section.
Al Rostello on ESPN, who would have thought?
His endless research is what got him there.
“He would ask a few more questions than a lot of people,” said Rick Knisely, who is the superintendent of Snakeden Hollow State Fish and Wildlife Area in Knox County. “He was just all about hunting.”
Al’s first hunt for wild animals came at the age of 9, when most kids are still playing with stuffed animals.
He grew up in Moberly, Mo., where he enjoyed goose hunting with his father at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the north-central part of the state. His favorite game bird to hunt became the wild turkey.
After 25 years of life in Missouri, he made his way to Central Illinois. He soon was known as the interesting, flannel shirt-wearing man with thick, black-rimmed glasses we grew to know very well.
“He was also dedicated to the mentoring of hunting and fishing programs for children,” said Tom Wall, Better Fishing Association’s chairman for the executive board.
Al particularly loved to attend the annual Kids’ Fishing Expo at Baker Lake in Peru.
He became politically active regarding a number of IDNR issues – most passionately with saving the Hennepin Canal State Parkway.
“He would criticize the [DNR] sometimes, but it was always with the best interests of the sportsman in mind,” Hennepin Canal State Parkway site superintendent Steve Moser said. “I consider him a friend because he was always fair.”
Al served as a delegate to the Conservation Congress for the BFA in 2000, and has been an active member for the Outdoor Writers since 1996, traveling across the nation each year to the different convention sites.
His first article in the NewsTribune came on July 22, 1992, and for every one of the 683 columns he wrote after that first run, his followers took time out of their day to go on a printed hunt with him.
“I was impressed with the tremendous accuracy that he insisted in putting in his articles,” said Kerry Novak, site superintendent for Shabbona State Park. “He would write something and then check and re-check the facts. I was always impressed with that, his integrity in doing those types of things.”
Truly, he will be missed.
It pained me to have to file Al’s final column on Sept. 12, and in reading it again, his exit was perfect then and still is to this day.
“Goodbye, everyone,” he wrote. “It was my pleasure to have tried to serve your interests.”
And it was a pleasure to read about them. ◊
Jim Cogdal is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached as 223-3200. ext. 139. or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jim Cogdal