Hank’s legacy still fresh in mind

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - CLAY HENRY

One year ago to­day, Prairie Grove lost a leg­end. The town turned out to cel­e­brate the life of Hank French in a won­der­ful ser­vice that’s just as vivid in my mind to­day as it was then.

Just as I thought then, I still be­lieve the memo­rial ser­vice should have been car­ried live on the ra­dio by Sports Talk with Bo Mat­tingly. It would have pro­vided per­spec­tive for ev­ery­one who had lis­tened to Ham­merin’ Hank for the last 20 years.

I went to the ser­vice to pay my re­spects to Hank, one of the great leg­ends of Arkansas sports talk ra­dio. Dubbed Ham­merin’ Hank by Chuck Bar­rett in the early days of his Sports Wrap show, French was well known in Prairie Grove.

I loved Hank. He brought me great joy. I looked for­ward to his calls on my days at the sta­tion with Bar­rett and Mat­tingly.

It was a mov­ing ser­vice, up­lift­ing and a great trib­ute to an Arkansas great, a fa­vorite son of Prairie Grove.

A spe­cial needs adult with a love for all things sports, Hank was com­monly seen walk­ing Arkansas 62 look­ing for a ride. He didn’t walk the shoul­ders of the high­way. He stood on the cen­ter line, of­ten wear­ing a tall Dr. Seuss hat. Ev­ery­one was glad to pick him up.

One year af­ter his pass­ing, I’m still re­minded by many about the void Hank left on our ra­dio show with Mat­tingly, and he hears it, too. Every now and then, we still play some Hank calls. They are price­less and age­less.

I still hear from some who used to look for­ward to run­ning across Hank hik­ing along in Prairie Grove, usu­ally look­ing for a ride. Chances were big those folks would then learn of the lat­est sports news. It could be on the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs or the Prairie Grove Tigers, or from pro sports. Hank learned it all dur­ing his 65 years.

The ser­vice at Prairie Grove First United Methodist Church was fan­tas­tic. There was laugh­ter through­out. Pas­tor Lee Mayne set the tone early when he called Hank “pure ra­dio gold.” In­deed, Hank was that for both Bar­rett and then over the last decade for Mat­tingly. Both loved to hear from Ham­merin’ Hank on their daily ra­dio shows.

Last sum­mer, Mat­tingly learned of Hank’s pass­ing via Twit­ter. Im­me­di­ately, a trib­ute to Hank was pre­pared for that af­ter­noon’s show. Statewide, lis­ten­ers were treated to one of the clas­sic Hank calls, when he crawled un­der his bed be­cause of storm warn­ings. A “cau­tious” Hank still was pre­pared with three thoughts for the day. That call was played to end Hank’s ser­vice.

That’s what Natalie Bart­hole­mew de­scribed at the ser­vice as typ­i­cal Hank. The phone mes­sages from her un­cle some­times were so de­tailed and lengthy that they came in three parts. He might be call­ing to an­nounce the NFL Draft with Dar­ren McFad­den go­ing to the Oak­land Raiders. Or, he might en­cour­age her to head to the li­brary to check out a book on “suck­ling” af­ter the birth of her child. And, he al­most al­ways called when there was a storm warn­ing.

I was in the stu­dio for many of Hank’s calls to Bar­rett and Mat­tingly. I was there the day Hank called to check to see if we had watched the new Space Jam movie fea­tur­ing Michael Jor­dan and Bugs Bunny. That was vin­tage Hank, too.

“I re­mem­ber the very first call,” Bar­rett said. “I didn’t know how to take Hank at first. He did want to know if we’d seen Michael Jor­dan in that movie.

“But as time wore on, I came to un­der­stand how gen­uine Hank was and his pure love of sports. He was well read, pre­pared and gen­er­ally had three points.

“You talk to a lot of unique peo­ple when you are do­ing sports talk. But Hank was the most unique. I lost a friend.”

Dud­ley Dawson, my col­league at Hawgs Il­lus­trated, also was there for many of Hank’s calls.

“Just the most gen­uine per­son you could ever imag­ine,” Dawson said. “And he was loyal to his sports teams. He was a great fan.”

Hank was a daily caller to Bar­rett’s show.

“It was a great part of the show,” Bar­rett said. “He made peo­ple smile when they were driv­ing down the road by them­selves. Good ra­dio is when it’s fun even when you are by your­self. I know he’s missed by most ev­ery­one.”

He re­calls the times when it might not be the per­fect time for a Hank call.

“We might be touch­ing on a sub­ject that was a spe­cific mat­ter that needed lengthy cov­er­age,” Bar­rett said. “So I

might not go straight to Hank. He hung on. Waited pa­tiently. He was al­ways there when we went to him and he de­liv­ered.

“As the show de­vel­oped, so did the unique char­ac­ter that was Hank. He was a spe­cial part of our show.”

Mat­tingly was hon­ored that the clip was played at the ser­vice. There is lit­tle doubt that Mayne was right about Hank’s worth to ra­dio.

“Hank was pure gold,” Mat­tingly said. “Hank stood out. He played along. He got into it and was fun.”

It wasn’t right away that Hank called Mat­tingly af­ter he took the host spot from Bar­rett, who was un­able to do sports talk af­ter be­com­ing the play-by-play ra­dio an­nouncer for Arkansas foot­ball in 2007.

“Ob­vi­ously, Hank called Bar­rett more,” Mat­tingly said. “I re­mem­ber the first time Hank called our show, ev­ery­one in the room let me know that Hank was awe­some. Then we started hear­ing from him on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and I looked for­ward to it.

“So many times you are tired of the same old stuff. Every time with Hank, it was fresh and in­ter­est­ing. It pro­vided an uptick for the show and we all knew it.

“You knew it was a big mo­ment in his day, too. And, it was a big mo­ment for us and for the lis­ten­ers. It made it worth lis­ten­ing.”

No doubt, Hank knew his stuff. He was up on stats. He could quote all things about the Ra­zor­backs.

“He brought pas­sion to our show,” Mat­tingly said. “His love for the Ra­zor­backs came through. He brought some­thing to the show that no one else could.”

Mat­tingly thinks the love of Hank by statewide lis­ten­ers might be sim­i­lar to what the state of Alabama felt for the son of for­mer Crim­son Tide coach Gene Stallings years ago.

“Gene would talk about his son of­ten and at the be­gin­ning some didn’t know what to do,” Mat­tingly said. “He had Down Syn­drome. It turned out the state of Alabama learned of his spe­cial gifts. We learned of Hank’s spe­cial gifts and it was gen­uine ra­dio.

“As we went along, Hank carved out his own niche. He proved that we can­not put lim­its on some­one. It was all pretty cool.”

Hank’s love of the Ra­zor­backs was well rep­re­sented at the ser­vice. A Hog Hat was near his cas­ket. And the video slide show at the end was full of pic­tures of Hank in Ra­zor­back gear. Hank was gen­er­ally dressed to the nines on hol­i­days, but there were usu­ally mardis gras beads hold­ing a Ra­zor­back pen­dent.

It was said that it’s a good thing Hank never made it on to the TV show Who Wants to be a Mil­lion­aire. He watched faith­fully, nail­ing ques­tion af­ter ques­tion. I learned a lot about Hank at his ser­vice.

It’s clear that he knew far more than most in the room. He came to life to me, as Prairie Grove knew Hank French. I know he’s now in a most spe­cial place in Heaven, but I’m go­ing to tell my­self every time there is a storm warn­ing that he’s un­der his bed and may call soon.

It’s the best way to re­mem­ber Ham­merin’ Hank. It’s been one year since his pass­ing, but I don’t think any­one has for­got­ten Hank French.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.