CHICAGO — A memorial celebration is set for Gary Repetto, who died three days before the Cubs won the World Series.
Repetto died just before his beloved Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.
At 11:47 a.m. Oct. 30, Repetto died at age 72. A few hours later, the Cubs won Game 5 of the World Series against the Indians at Wrigley Field. A couple days later, in Cleveland, they won their first World Series since 1908.
"I was ripped apart on Wednesday when they won Game 7," Repetto's brother, David, said last year. LIke Gary, the River East resident was an Irving Park native who grew up about 2 miles west of Wrigley Field at Addison Street and Kimball Avenue.
"He was so excited that they were finally in the World Series. But he knew he was dying, and he knew he had only a short time left," David said.
David Repetto is organizing the celebration for his brother, which will be held from 6-10 p.m. May 5 at Moretti's Ristorante and Pizzeria, 6727 N. Olmsted Ave. in Edison Park. The event follows May 4's ceremony where Gary Repetto — a former standout football and baseball player at the now-closed Weber High School — will be inducted into the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame.
David Repetto expects a few dozen family, friends and ex-teammates to attend May 5's event at Moretti's.
"We have planned an evening to honor Gary with friends and family," David Repetto said Thursday. "Many former teammates will be in attendance. An indelible connection will be made between his performance in Chicago prep sports and his later writing about Chicago prep sports."
The Cubs played a key role throughout all of Gary's life. As a kid, he went to games with David and their dad, Bill, who David said attended the 1932 World Series game where Babe Ruth called his home run.
In their youth, David and Gary would stay until the end of games, then lift the seat lids to upright positions, starting in left field and then going an entire row all the way to right field. When they got to the end, they were given vouchers for free tickets for future games. It was common practice in those days for kids to lift the seat lids over entire lengths of rows so Wrigley workers could more easily remove the trash under them.
When Gary was a student at Weber High School, he was also an Andy Frain usher at Wrigley, guiding people to their seats. As a star fullback/linebacker at Weber, he helped the Red Horde win the 1961 Prep Bowl championship over Lane Tech before 83,750 fans at Soldier Field — and played both spots at the University of New Mexico, where he had earned a football scholarship. He also became a football coach at the university.
Gary stayed out West for most of the remainder of his life — although he returned to Chicago and taught and coached baseball at Weber for three years in the late 1960s — but never stopped loving the Cubs and always was involved with sports.
He met his wife, Antoinette, while serving as commissioner of the Young America Football League of New Mexico, a statewide youth football program. Antoinette had a part-time job in that office.
The couple celebrated their 40th anniversary on Aug. 18. Twelve days later, Repetto — a corporate recruiter of engineers in the mining and defense industries for 39 years who then became a novelist — released the second of his two books.
The first book Repetto wrote, released in 2015, is titled "Prairie Fire" and is based on Chicago's Catholic League football conference. He drew heavily from his experiences playing for Weber, which at the time was a Catholic League power.
The second book is called "Afraid of the Dark" — a story about a 12-year-old boy who time-travels from the present to 1969, finding himself a player for the Chicago Cubs during their historic collapse late in the season.
But in Gary's story, the player saves the Cubs and takes them to the brink of the World Series. It's a book, David said, of what could have been with the 1969 Cubs, and "what we experienced of what just really happened with the current Cubs."
"When the book came out, he was healthy, and we were so busy," Antoinette said last year.
But a few days later, Gary was diagnosed with bile duct cancer — the same type of cancer that ravaged Walter Payton's body.
"It was a complete surprise," Antoinette said.
Gary's health quickly declined. He could barely move. Breathing was difficult.
His biggest joy besides family was watching the Cubs' playoff run. Just after the season began, he told his wife and brother that he truly felt this was the year "they would finally beat the curse," David said.
Antoinette said her late husband called this year's Cubs team "Cubbies" because they were so young. During the first four World Series games that Gary got to see, Antoinette said she could feel him trying to "push the team forward as if he was coaching them."