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Mom had their backs

Tue., Sept. 11, 2012

Famed Chalich siblings likely encountered their toughest opposition at home

By all accounts, it was rough-and-tumble in the Chalich household filled with seven children – five of them boys – who could test the patience of Job, and definitely tested their widowed mother, Martha.

How else do you account for stories of missing fingers, countless high school disciplining or the prone youngest brother who had been cold-cocked by the oldest?

Nonetheless, growing up poor in a Spokane Valley house of less than 1,000 square feet, the Chalich siblings – George, Eli, Nick, Ray, Stan and sisters Sadie (Ruekert) and Dorothy (Burns) – were toughened by hard work on their 10-acre orchard and their mother’s insistence on accountability.

It steeled them for sports.

For nearly 20 years, the Chaliches were the face of Central Valley High School athletics.

On Friday, the eldest, George, is at last securing his spot on CV’s Wall of Fame with others being recognized during the Bears’ football game.

A four-year, four-sport letter winner, George set City League season and career basketball scoring records going head-to-head against Lewis and Clark and Washington State legend Bud Roffler. George played four years of college basketball split between Washington and Gonzaga.

“I had thought about quitting high school, but here they (CV faculty, including his coach, Ray Thacker) come,” he said. “They say, ‘if George stays in school he’ll have college scholarships to play ball.’ I says, ‘what are you talking about?’ My mom was pretty much up on things. Mom says ‘you’re going to stay in school. We’re a tough family and we’ll make it.’ ”

A self-proclaimed under achiever at CV (“I had four years of shop with coach Ray Thacker with orders not to touch the equipment”), when college sports beckoned he got his grades up and became a Husky.

“My freshman year I passed Seattle and flunked school,” he quipped. Fluent in the Serbo-Croation language of his elders, the language was his salvation. Twenty five hours of A’s, he said, kept him eligible.

But he was called home by his mother and finished at Gonzaga because, he said, Nick and Ray got into some trouble.

“Mom says, ‘I’ll need you to help with discipline,’ ” Chalich, 82, explained. “And discipline in our house was the dukes.”

The Chalich sports legacy began with George in 1944 and ended with Stan’s graduation in 1963.

All the brothers were multisport athletes. Nick graduated in 1957, a three-sport athlete. He still holds the Bears’ javelin record.

Ray graduated a year later and played basketball and track, minus half a finger. Stan, a three-sport star, was a member on one of the best CV football teams and three state-placing basketball teams from 1961-63. He played football and baseball in college at Columbia Basin and Western Montana colleges.

Maybe the best of the bunch was family archivist Sadie (Rueckert), who at 80 still bowls and says she carries a 17 or 18 golf handicap. Her time unfortunately came well before Title IX. She shot with the boys into the night by the light of a 100-watt bulb after Thacker nailed a basket to their barn.

“Ray used to say, ‘it’s too bad you weren’t a boy,’ ” Sadie said.

Sports offered relief from the labor at home.

“When Ray put the basket up, I don’t think dad was happy,” Stan said. “All he believed in from the old country was to go to work. To go to practice was fun. It was my way of getting out of work.”

• • •  

Serbian immigrant Eli Sr., for health reasons, moved his family from Butte, Mont., to Eighth and Progress in the Spokane Valley in 1938. Silicosis contracted in the copper mines claimed him in 1945, not long after Stan was born.

The siblings called their mother a saint, and rightly so. It was survival of the fittest.

“If you got into trouble at school my mother said don’t ask her to come in and get you out of it,” Dorothy said. “She said ‘You got yourself into it, you get yourself out. You kids don’t know how lucky you are to be able go to school and make something of yourself.’ ”

Even after the siblings were out of the house, Martha took in five foster children and saw to their education.

“We learned a lot from that woman,” Nick said. “When we were getting ready to go out and raise hell, she said, ‘Don’t do anything that would make me ashamed of you.’ The second thing we learned real fast was about the value of things and to not be afraid of work.”

They picked berries and weeds in the community and baby-sat to bring money home. They took care of the farm and chopped wood for Martha’s cooking stove. She swung a mean ax herself, said Stan.

And they had time for mischief, regaling you with oft-hilarious stories of their Old World-influenced upbringing, punctuated by their signature laughs.

Once, they were playing a children’s game called mumbletypeg. It involves flicking a pocket knife into the ground. Only they used an ax and accidentally cut off one and a half of Ray’s fingers.

“The dog got one and ate it,” Nick said. “I think I went in and got the other. Anyway we did get (it) sewed on.”

Stan once peeved George, then Gonzaga’s interim baseball coach/player, by hitting Bulldogs baseballs into the orchard.

“He yelled at me,” Stan said. “I (retorted). He came after me. I thought I could outrun him.” Next thing Stan knew he was sprawled on the ground after George belted him. “I didn’t realize he was as fast as he was.”

Nick told this on George. “When he was plowing with the horse in the field, he’d give the reins to Eli and he’d take off, go to town and raise hell.”

But their rooted upbringing and education led to successful adults.

George taught high school and coached before becoming a financial planner. Eli Jr., who died four years ago, owned a nursing home in the San Francisco area.

Nick worked for Joey August Distributors which, some 35 years ago, led to raising Thoroughbred horses. He still races two at Portland Meadows.

Ray lives in Portland, having built a successful career in the wine industry. Stan, at age 68 (he tells his students he’s 59), is beginning his 45th year as a teacher and coach at CV. Dorothy and Sadie, the latter who spent 41 years in insurance, were both career women.

Nearly all the children were athletes. Nick’s grandson, Chad, quarterbacked Coeur d’Alene football to two state titles and is redshirting at Idaho.

Their lives are all there in the numerous scrapbooks Sadie religiously filled. The home of their childhood remains in the close-knit family – the gathering place then for neighboring kids and college athletes – at the bequest of their mother, a reminder of lives well lived.

“When we had nothing we always had the love of five brothers,” Stan said, “even if they were tougher than hell.”

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