RED

By CAM TAIT

Ron Lakusta just had to say one name during a recent phone call serving as an invitation to visit a gentleman who was around the Edmonton Oil Kings in the mid-1960s.

“Red,” Lakusta said.

“He’s living in the Grandview Extended Centre. I go up every week for an hour and take him a milkshake. He likes chocolate.

“Do you remember Red?”

For the thousands of people who met Red, we never forget him. I met Red first in the fall of 1978 when the Oil Kings returned for one year when the Flin Flon Bombers flew south. Bill Hunter, Vic Mah and a few other Edmonton businessmen bought the Bombers franchise to play in the iconic Edmonton Gardens.

The Oil Kings also meant the return of Red, who has a minor mental disability. He was a stick boy for the team in the 1960s.

“I first met Red when I was eight and my dad took me to Oil Kings games,” said Lakusta, now 61. “He’s a legend in Edmonton.”

Lakusta drove ETS bus for 42 years. Red was one of his regular passengers.

Very few people know Red’s real name. I didn’t for 30 years: it’s Gerry Blackwell.

I met Lakusta and his son Corey Saturday afternoon at the Grandview. We went into a nice quaint room, The Den, while Corey went to get Red from his second-floor room.

“He stays in bed most of the day now,” says Lakusta.

Corey wheeled Red into meet us in a recliing wheelchair. Red had a bright orange Edmonton Oilers T-shirt and a blue and white Oil King ball cap.

Red looked thinner than he did the last time we spoke over a year ago. But that smile, and the twinkle in his eye was as fresh as the day I first met him.

Calculating an age for Red is complicated. On Saturday he said he was 65. But, when I first met him he was well over 40. Someone once said Red was born 1926.

Hockey …. Well, that’s a different equation. Red said very little during our visit. When Lakusta mentioned the Oil Kings winning the Memorial Cup in the 60’s, Red was bang on.

“Sixty-six,” he softly said. “Oshawa.”

Sure enough: the Oil Kings won the Memorial Cup that year, sealing the deal with a 4-2 win over the Oshawa Generals in Toronto.

Lakusta rubbed Red’s slender arms while he held the chocolate milkshake for Red.

It’s indeed unfortunate Red doesn’t realize he is a pioneer for people with mental disabilities in major junior hockey and the National Hockey League. Oilers dressing room attendant Joe Moss comes to mind. So does Mikel McIver, who has similar responsibilities for the Red Deer Rebels.

Both men have Down syndrome, and there are several others throughout the game.

An hour ends. Corey got a blanket for Red minutes before a nurse came into the room.

“We’ll get him back to bed because he’s probably in pain,” she said.

But complain? Not Red.

Lakusta’s call was timely as Seniors Week ended Saturday. It’s a simple, yet subtle reminder, of remembering our pioneers, staying in touch and make sure they have a treat.

Milkshakes included.

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