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Omaha fans' tribute celebrates Strawn

Storm Chasers community copes with death of retired police officer
June 10, 2015

Hey Buddy!

For the loyal group of Omaha Storm Chasers fans who sit in Section 118, those two words had become synonymous with the Werner Park experience.

Hey Buddy!

This was the catch-all greeting utilized by season-ticket holder Jerry Strawn, a boisterous and big-hearted ballpark presence who could be found every night in his familiar spot behind the third base dugout: Section 118, Row 9, Seat 15.

Strawn, a retired policeman and former volunteer firefighter, was often accompanied by his wife, Rhonda, as well as various combinations of their three children and eight grandchildren. And those at Werner Park to whom he wasn't related were, invariably, his "buddies." Whether heckling the umpire -- "I thought only horses slept standing up!" -- or handing out souvenirs to young fans, Strawn was the emotional center of Section 118. 

Therefore, it was a huge loss to the Storm Chasers fan community when, this past February, Strawn passed away suddenly at the age of 63. After getting over their shock, his fellow Section 118 ticket-holders decided that they needed to pay tribute. This effort was spearheaded by Wayne Bena -- Sarpy County (Nebraska) election commissioner by day, die-hard Storm Chasers fan by night. 

"Jerry was just a fixture here," said Bena. "And he was a huge Cubs fan. His wife even made him a jersey that was half-Cubs and half-Storm Chasers, so that when the [Iowa] Cubs played the Storm Chasers he could have both allegiances."

• Read more about Ben's visits to Omaha on the Biz Blog »

He continued, "So the section got together to figure out a way we could honor Jerry. We had his seat wrapped in Cubs colors and put 'Hey Buddy' on it because that's what he would say to everybody. And he always made you believe that you were the guy he was saying it to, but he said it to everybody."

The seat is jointly owned and maintained by Bena, his wife, Jill, and fellow season-ticket holders Mark and Connie Fischer. Approximately 20 people agreed to donate to the design and alteration costs, but it ended up being a moot point. E.J. Stanek of Curzon Promotional Graphics (a Storm Chasers sponsor) was touched by the fans' gesture and refused to accept payment for his work in creating Strawn's special seat. 

"On Opening Day we unveiled [the seat] to his wife, along with a plaque and a picture of all of us," said Bena. "For Jerry's kids and grandkids, this gives them a lot of peace, to see it. Their father and grandfather meant so much to all of us."

I spoke with Bena while sitting in Section 118, Strawn's seat sitting empty between us. A few rows in front of us sat season ticket-holder Jeff Kluch, who elaborated on what Jerry had meant to the section.

"118 is a little family during the summertime, and Jerry was always a staple, regardless of the weather," he said. "He was always fun, always friendly, always working with the kids, always open to giving them baseballs."

According to Bena, this act of generosity was one of Strawn's defining ballpark traits.

"This is a popular spot between innings for kids to get balls," he said, referencing Section 118's proximity to the home dugout. "But there were always one or two kids who didn't get a ball throughout the day, so he always had a backpack full of baseballs to give to the kids."

That was just the kind of man that Strawn was -- a "buddy" to all.

"He was the fixture. You knew that if you couldn't be here, he would be," said Bena. "If you needed an extra ticket, he'd find one for you. It's different in this section this year, without him. He's certainly missed."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.