Our close-knit 1000 block of Beloit recently lost an unforgettable character. Dave Thies succumbed to his longstanding cardiac problems at the age of 70. Dave had a one-of-a-kind wake at Zimmerman-Harnett Funeral Home — a parade garbage truck with purple bunting was parked in front to honor him. Inside, a large crowd of neighbors and loved ones attended. Dave may have had a cranky exterior, but we all knew the warm heart he not-so-carefully hid.
I knew Dave better than most of my neighbors. Our sons were the same age. We coached them in Little League and flag football. Dave also worked at my private detective agency for a year or two.
He had an impressive background in investigation. His dad had been police chief of Elgin. After Dave finished school, he joined the FBI. He later served in the Air Force. Stationed in London as a Russian translator, he monitored the transmissions of Soviet pilots. He told me they had filthy mouths.
After the service, he worked for a series of companies as a debt collector. He was very skillful and used a pleasant but persistent manner to get debtors to pay up. When he wasn’t calling on my past-due invoices, Dave was my ace investigator. Each morning, he showed up in a neat sport shirt and slacks, ready to hit the streets.
Getting Dave out the door, though, proved a bit difficult. After I gave him the assignment and my instructions, he would give me 20 reasons why my methods wouldn’t work. We would spar for a few minutes. Finally, I’d implore him to just go out and try. Nine times out of 10, he’d come back with a stunned look because my tactic had worked.
Dave filled the long days at the office with endless stories about his kids though he was careful not to tell his kids directly how proud he was. I was the audience for Dave Jr.’s storied baseball career, Ryan’s exploits on the diamond and Michelle’s career as a nurse. He also bragged about Jeff’s business expertise.
Dave regaled me with tales of growing up in Elgin, where he was a standout in Little League and played quarterback in high school. He claimed he qualified for the Little League World Series and went hitless against a pitcher from Mexico. When this pitcher made the Majors, Dave examined the back of his baseball card and discovered he had been 16 at the time he faced him.
His life revolved around sports. We had a great time coaching our sons. As my offensive coordinator in flag football, he installed two unstoppable plays: triple option right and triple option left. We literally scored touchdowns right and left.
Dave had a wicked sense of humor. After his heart attack, he observed, “You know you’re in trouble when a guy in a $400 suit is running down the hallway with you.” However, after his wife Barbara Joy, passed away 10 years ago, we didn’t share many laughs. Dave spent his days sitting in his kitchen, puffing cigarettes and listening to the Cubs. When we did see him, he was riding a big old bike for exercise. He wasn’t exactly the picture of health, keeping a cigarette going as he pedaled.
At the wake, Jeff recalled his dad’s instructions to toss his corpse in a garbage bag. Seeing the ceremonial truck out front that Dave’s employer had sent, he noted, “Dad’s hearse is here.”
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.