By Mike Tomano
© 2022 Fossil Entertainment Group / Michael Tomano
July 10, 2022
It was a month ago as I write this that I got the phone call. I was wrapping up my radio show on Friday, June 10th, and headed downstairs from the studio to grab some stuff off the printer. My phone rang. It was my friend, Darren Westphal, a respected jeweler in Bradley, Illinois.
I answered, “What’s up, brother?” There was glee in my voice. Darren is a great guy, and we are planning a hunting trip together in early fall, so I figured the call had something to do with our plans.
Darren cut right in. “I wanted to let you know before it hits social media that Nick Huffman passed away.”
My heart dropped and my gut spun. I managed, “Okay. Thanks for calling.”
I went out to my truck and took a moment to gather myself together. I cried hard. Soon, my phone was full of texts from mutual friends, asking if I’d heard and if I knew “what happened?”
All I knew was that a giant was gone. I didn’t want to talk about it.
Nick was a living legend in the community I work in. As owner of the shittiest place with the best bands, the infamous Looney Bin, he had carved out a revolutionary approach to local and national music performance, and his patrons epitomized the “family” aspect amongst merry revelers committed to a watering-hole home.
I would visit Nick there during the day, and occasionally check out shows with my wife. The relationship between Nick and I was cemented outside of the bar, and our conflicting schedules kept us from socializing as much as we would have liked.
As Nick’s funeral preparations were being made, I received a call from his best friend, Emily, on behalf of his family. She asked if I would eulogize him.
Over the last month, I’ve listened to Nick’s favorite David Allan Coe songs over and over, laughed at my memories with him and gained a renewed urgency to cherish life, friendships and family greater in his absence.
In May, Nick invited my wife and I to take in a show at The Looney Bin. Denise and I were excited, as we always had a wonderful time with him. As fate would have it, my own band got a last-minute booking for that night, so we missed out.
I sent him a message explaining and resolved to stop by and see him soon.
Each weekday, after my radio show, I take a break. I head off in my truck, grab a Snapple and a Kind bar, run some errands or do some shopping before I return to finish off my production assignments and show preparation for the following day.
On Wednesday, June 7th, I drove past The Looney Bin, thinking I should stop in and see if Nick was around. I kept driving, as I had to get back to work to cut some commercials and wanted to be able to spend more time visiting with him.
On Thursday, I got bogged down at work and decided I would call him to go fishing over the weekend.
When I got home, I told Denise of my plans to “get Huffman out fishing this weekend.”
I will forever regret not stopping in to see Nick that week, and the message is not lost on me.
Eulogies are usually reserved for attendees of a loved one’s funeral, but on his mother Maureen’s urging, I will share my words about Nick with the world. Our lives are lesser without him, but his spirit will live on.
October 6, 1979 – June 9, 2022
Thousands of chickens are breathing a sigh of relief today.
Before I get started, I want to book a meeting with Jim Rowe (Kankakee County State’s Attorney), to see if we can get Nick a posthumous pardon on his Walmart ban. Can we pull a few strings, Jim?
When I first heard Nick left us, I was numb. I couldn’t focus. When Emily, Maureen, and Callie contacted me to speak today, I was honored, though it’s not a task one looks forward to fulfilling.
How do I speak about this giant? How do I condense such a massive life into a few moments? How do I capture the essence of this force of nature?
Right now, Nick is giving me those raised eyebrows and boyish grin.
I recently watched the movie True Grit, the remake with Jeff Bridges, and when Jeff’s character, Rooster Cogburn, entered the screen, I laughed and said, “That’s Nick Huffman!”
Nick had True Grit.
True Grit is defined as having the courage and strength to show your true character.
Boy, did Nick possess True Grit. He lived his life with a Yes, I Said It, Yes I Did It and I’d Say It and Do It Again attitude that few possess.
If it was the right thing to do, the consequences didn’t matter. Hell, if it was a completely insane thing to do, the consequences didn’t matter.
What I always admired about our friend Nick was that he never second guessed himself. He made a decision and made things happen.
I’ve always been envious of his go-for-it approach to life. Nick Huffman lived his life full-steam-ahead. His stubbornness was a great asset for success.
Nick hated to see people in bad situations. He wanted to help. If it was a good cause, he was in.
In 2010, my family started a camp for kids to honor my late father. I told Nick about it and was he immediately on board. He helped raise money, helped us promote it, and became the photographer. He brought his kids and friends. He loved seeing the kids have fun, making memories. Our friend, Betsy brought a rescued baby raccoon for the children to pet and learn about.
When camp broke for lunch, Nick got in line, grabbed a hamburger bun...and placed the baby raccoon in it, opened his mouth wide and pretended he was going to eat it. The children screamed and laughed. Nick was great for seizing a moment and finding the funny.
Full disclosure: The raccoon went on to live a happy and full life.
Nick was impulsive and passionate. He was constantly coming up with new ideas, always planning new adventures, and always expanding his horizons.
When Nick asked for something, it was hard to say no. He wasn’t the guy you haven’t seen in a year who calls you and asks to help him move. Nick was the guy that was always there, always ready to help you, so it was hard to say no.
Now, there were times when I said, “Oh, Nick, don’t do that!”
I said that, but never out loud, only in my head. Because I knew if Nick said he was going to do something, he was going to do it.
Larger Than Life. That phrase was never more appropriately used to describe someone than Nick Huffman.
Larger-Than-Insert-Your-Favorite-Expletive-Life. Nick’s lust for life was larger. His Never Say Never Attitude was larger. His devotion to his family and friends was larger. Nick loved larger.
Nick could come off as a real hard guy if you didn’t know him. Reckless, fearless. Physically, he was a giant, a grizzly bear made of iron, but that iron was there to protect his giant heart, which was caring and kind, gentle and compassionate.
The truth is, behind all the alligator-wrestlin’, bar-bouncin’ wild times was a man who only wanted to make sure the people he loved knew he loved them. He wanted every room filled with laughter; every night shared to be full of memories.
Nick cried. Again, you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t spend quiet times with him. He hated injustice. It broke his heart to see people hurting or in need. He rushed to help whenever he could. He wanted people to be taken care of. He could be quick to retaliate, but just as quick to forgive.
If you told him someone had crossed you, he would instantly concoct such an elaborate revenge plan that you would end up just forgiving the person yourself.
I made a lot of memories with Nick. A couple are going with him, but I’ll share a few to show you the Nick I know and will always love.
When I first met Nick Huffman, he came to a radio station I worked at with his new comedy cd. He was funny and cordial, but immediately, I put my hand to the “bleep” button. There was a very unpredictable trait to his demeanor that kept us all on our toes.
We became friends and started to hang out. We shared a love for Great Outdoor Adventure.
One time he invited me fishing. He told me he found a pond that was full of big bluegill. We carried our gear through a field, past a large estate, and through a woodlot to a secluded pond.
The fishing was unbelievable. We filled two coolers. No one else fished this pond, as there were private property signs every thirty yards or so. I knew that someone must really love Nick to give him permission. But everybody loved Nick and who could resist his charm when asking permission to fish?
On the way out, I thanked Nick and told him to tell his friend how much I appreciated him letting us fish.
“What friend?” Nick said.
One August, we spent the entire day fishing and squirrel hunting, like the certified, card-carrying, lifetime membership rednecks we are. It was really hot that day, and we were both sweaty, bug-bitten and dirty. Nick had one leg completely covered in mud.
We decided to get dinner. Together, we looked like an abandoned pickup dredged from the bottom of The Kankakee River. We were filthy and smelly.
The waitress asked for our order. Nick said, “Two fried chicken dinners, an extra order of fries, and two Cokes.”
The waitress started to leave, and Nick called her back, “Wait, my friend’s gotta order.
Nick’s appetite for fried chicken almost matched his appetite for life.
Nick never worried about himself. In fact, Nick mastered the art of the shrug-off.
I remember calling him to see if he wanted to grab dinner.
“You’ll have to drive. I’m blind.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
In true Nick fashion, he said, “It means I can’t see,” followed by that Nick Huffman “gotcha” giggle.
I start work at five in the morning, and I have a collection of video messages sent to me in that ungodly hour from Nick. I never knew what the video would be about, but would always laugh at their randomness.
“Hey, what’s up, brother? Do you want to go to The Medieval Torture Museum?”
Sometimes, it would just be him rambling. He blamed breaking his chin, neck, pelvis, right elbow, right foot and right knee, along with the fire, on how people voted in the last election. He blamed the spread of Covid on a performance by a bad standup comic. I would get a call at 4:30 in the morning for a dissertation on Chinese microchip technology, or a question about something I said on a particular day.
“Do you remember when you were talking about – “
I’d say, “No, when was that?”
“Oh, man, it had to be ten years ago.”
A friendship with Nick Huffman was long-term. Like, I’d send him a text message asking if he wanted to grab lunch and, six days later, I’d get a response.
Nick and I often talked about our kids. We talked about our joys and our worries. Callie is a blessing to all who know her; a smart, caring, kind and lovely woman. Waylon and Cash are two independent spirits cut from the same rugged cloth as their Old Man. We would share stories about our children and he would always smile mentioning Callie, Waylon, Cash, Haylie and Austin. He was proud of their independence, proud of their achievements.
Nick loved his kids. Our hearts break for them, but they can rest assured that he loved them, and that their father touched many, many lives and will never be forgotten. And all of Nick’s children possess that Huffman True Grit.
So, Callie, Waylon, Cash, Hayley, Austin, pursue your dreams. You’re Huffman kids, so you are not allowed to doubt yourself or your abilities.
Like his father Randy, Nick was a straight shooter. He wasn’t going to soften up what he felt you needed to hear.
And, in reality, Big Bad Nick Huffman was a Mama’s Boy, in the best sense of the term. He loved his mother. Her well-being was his top priority. She was his best friend, and he wanted the world to know it. Maureen Huffman raised a man’s man, whose word was as true as his bearhugs.
Those who are larger than life are complex people. Nick had a lot of sides to him. A renegade fun-lover. A soft-hearted gentle soul. The life of the party. The shoulder to cry on. The guy you’d call and knew he’d be there. He could be found rockin’ his club into the wee hours of the morning with a rowdy group of friends or sitting and staring at the sunset through treetops.
Those eyes said it all. There was a lot going on in Nick’s mind and heart. His soul is old and wise.
Everybody who hung out with Nick has gone through what I call “The Huffman Gut Drop.” You could be anyplace...a church, a store, a restaurant, a wake, a concert...and somehow the proverbial wheels on the bus fly off and you are next to Nick ridin’ a rollercoaster through some strange situation you couldn’t have dreamed up, wondering if it’s really happening. Nick says something, does something, or some weirdness shows up and butterflies in your stomach take a kamikaze dive-bomb. But whatever happened, you came out laughing.
Several years ago, Nick and I went on a camping trip in Michigan. On the grounds was a herd of buffalo. The guy who ran the property told us to stay away from them; they were “unpredictable and fearless.”
Well, Nick, being unpredictable and fearless, grabbed his camera and made sure he got as close as possible to the herd. I laughed and asked, “What do you think they’re going to do, pose for you?”
Well, they did.
When Nick approached the buffalo, I’m sure they felt a kindred spirit was among them.
Buffalo are unique in a number of ways. When a storm approaches, most wildlife seeks shelter, but the buffalo faces the storm and runs into it. That was Nick.
When most animals are attacked, the other members of their group flee. When a buffalo is attacked, the herd circles and defends it. That was Nick.
He faced every storm and provided a circle of protection around his loved ones.
Everybody knows Nick Huffman, even people who don’t know him. He’s larger than life. People who have never met Nick have called to tell me how sorry that are that he’s gone.
But he’s not gone, because legends never die.
The worst part of The Nick Huffman Legend is that the stories we have will be told and people who have never met Nick will not believe them. We know they’re all true.
The more that crazy stories get told, the crazier they get. Well, no need with Nick Huffman stories. We know that rather than embellish our Nick Huffman stories, sometimes we have to leave out certain details to protect the innocent...which oftentimes were us!
He lived his life, sometimes on the edge, sometimes quiet and reflective, but always larger.
Nick Huffman. Larger Than Life.
And the lives of all of us who knew and loved Nick are larger, and better for it.
Do Nick a favor. Live larger than life. Be the best friend you can be. Face The Storms. Protect those around you. Say what you mean and stand up for what you believe in.
With the thousands of social media posts, a recurrent statement was, “Nick always had your back.” That’s as true as it gets, and we have a great task to rise to that level of dedication.
Nick approached each day with the exuberance of a 10-year-old on the first day of summer vacation.
In his vocations, Nick was a Renaissance Man. A wrestler, a comedian, a writer, a painter, an incredible photographer, a business owner, a broadcaster. If an activity tickled his fancy, he jumped in headfirst and tore it to shreds.
Nick Huffman. A Grizzly Bear and a Teddy Bear.
Each of our lives were enriched by having Nick a part of them. He will be missed. He will be remembered.
I always called Nick, “Little Brother.”
Whenever I talked to Nick, he’d end our conversations by saying, “Love you, Brother.”
Though it’s hard to wrap up this conversation, let me say for all of us:
I love you, Nick. - Mike Tomano, June 13, 2022