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CEDAR RAPIDS — The NFL had Pat Summerall and John Madden, Major League Baseball had Vin Scully and Harry Caray and boxing had Howard Cosell.
Cedar Rapids — all of Eastern Iowa, really — had Bob Brooks.
Brooks, whose broadcasting career spanned seven decades, died Saturday at age 89.
Brooks had a passion for high schools sports and a devotion to the Iowa Hawkeyes, but he covered everything from professional baseball to the Olympics.
“He’s a legend in Cedar Rapids sports,” longtime friend Bill Quinby said. “When Bob Brooks walked into your gym or your football field, he was recognized by everyone.”
Phil Haddy, a former University of Iowa sports information director who worked with Brooks at KCRG, called him “a jewel for the city of Cedar Rapids.”
“He was a true gentleman,” Haddy said. “Probably not a nicer person that I’ve known or dealt with. ... He didn’t say bad things about people. If he did, I never heard them.”
Bill Happel, a star athlete at Cedar Rapids Washington and a football standout at Iowa, called Brooks an “icon.”
“It was the coolest thing in the world to be one of the three guys to be called up to the press box,” said Happel, who later worked alongside Brooks at KHAK radio station. “I don’t think anyone ever covered high schools sports like Bob Brooks.”
Former KCRG-TV sports director John Campbell often worked alongside Brooks, including the final game at the old Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
“To be able to say I got a chance to work with Bob Brooks in this profession is really special,” he said.
A Cedar Rapids native and Iowa graduate, Brooks did it all in broadcasting — working radio and television for KCRG, handling play-by-play for the Hawkeyes and doing daily sports reports for several Cedar Rapids radio stations, most recently at KMRY.
“I never would have taken the job (at KCRG) if I had to follow a legend like Bob Brooks,” said Campbell, who arrived at the station in 1979. “He could do so much with so little. He could ad-lib almost anything.
“He could go on forever, and it was good stuff.”
Brooks graduated from Franklin High School in 1944 and already had ventured into broadcasting. WSUI radio lacked male voices during World War II, so Brooks’ speech and drama teacher had recommended him as an intern to station management.
“I was just a gofer,” Brooks said in an interview with The Gazette. “I did whatever was available. If it was a classical music introduction, or if it was straight announcements, I filled in wherever I could.”
His storytelling ability and detailed memory set him apart, those who knew him said.
“That’s the beauty of him,” said Campbell, who had lunch with Brooks every Monday. “I used to love listening to him tell stories.”
One of Brooks’ favorite stories involved his friend Quinby. During Quinby’s sophomore year at Iowa, the two traveled to Florida for spring training with the Cedar Rapids professional team. Brooks got him a tryout with the Cleveland Indians, Quinby said.
“He had one of the Cleveland guys take me out and hit me some ground balls,” Quinby said, adding, with a laugh, “so I wasn’t a complete freeloader.”
Quinby later was in Brooks’ wedding.
“I’m sure he could have gone farther up the ladder” in broadcasting, Quinby said, but Brooks loved Cedar Rapids and Iowa.
Haddy said Brooks had many opportunities in bigger markets.
“He had such a love and such an allegiance to Cedar Rapids,” Haddy said. “He truly is a treasure for Cedar Rapids.”
Brooks was the first to broadcast high school sports in Cedar Rapids and the first to do games from Memorial Stadium.
“We were in his first ‘professional’ broadcast,” Quinby said. “We were in the American Legion tournament in 1948.”
Brooks earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Iowa that year but had started following the Hawkeyes as a spectator in 1939, watching football games from the Iowa Knothole section for 25 cents admission. Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick played for that team.
“He’s been a true Hawkeye fan,” Haddy said. “It wasn’t just a business to him. He took it to heart.”
Brooks was the first to broadcast football games from Hill Park in Cedar Rapids, at what was then Roosevelt High School, in 1948. He was the first to broadcast from the Kingston Stadium press box in 1952.
On Sept. 30, 2011, the press box at Kingston Stadium was named for him, and that day was proclaimed “Bob Brooks Day” in Cedar Rapids by Mayor Ron Corbett.
“His promotion of high school activities for more than 60 years through his broadcasting has created numerous memories for those students and their families,” said Scott Kibby, who headed the committee that chose Brooks to be the charter member of the Kingston Stadium Hall of Fame last year.
“What amazed me is he would do a high school game and the next day he’s at a Big Ten football game,” Campbell said.
“I think he really did have an affinity for high school sports,” Happel said.
Brooks worked for WSUI from 1943 to 1948, KCRG from 1949 to 1976, KHAK from 1977 to 2000 and then KMRY until his recent illness.
“He liked to go where the action was,” Happel said.
“He was a secondary father figure to me,” Haddy said. “A brother, a friend and a father.”
Brooks started doing color commentary and compiling statistics for Iowa football in 1943, eventually became a play-by-play announcer and later was involved in pre- and postgame shows with broadcasters Ron Gonder and Jim Zabel. Brooks was a regular at Kinnick Stadium in 2015 during a 12-0 regular season, taking a seat in the front row at news conferences and asking Coach Kirk Ferentz questions after games.
Among his many honors, Brooks was a 10-time winner of the Iowa Sportscaster of the Year award, won the Chris Schenkel Award from the National College Football Foundation, the Golden Mike award, a Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting award and the Learfield Sports award for serving as a voice of the Hawkeyes for 50 years.
Brooks was a member of numerous Halls of Fame, including the College Football Hall of Fame, Iowa Broadcasters Association, Iowa High School Football Association, Iowa Hall of Pride, Cedar Rapids Kernels and those at Washington and Kennedy high schools.
Brooks is survived by his wife, Susie, and son, Rob.
Former Gazette sports content manager Nick Pugliese contributed to this report.