They both showed up wearing their Minnesota Vikings sweatshirts. “Great minds think alike,” said Big Buddy John Call as Little Buddy Noah Hellerud, 12, sat next to him in a booth at Pizza Ranch.
The two were having their Christmas lunch and gift exchange with Noah’s mom, Kelli, on a bright winter day. The other part of the celebration was that John was named the 2012 Rock County “Big Buddy of the Year.”
Noah absolutely thinks John deserves the award “… because he’s a great Big Buddy and he takes me places I want to go.”
(Including, sometimes, fishing in the Hills Rez — home of a snapping turtle “as big as a manhole cover,” according to Noah and others who claim to have seen it. Nobody can catch it. It just snaps the line. Noah is pretty sure that John would sacrifice himself to save his little buddy if things ever got really wild at the Rez and the turtle made a move for their canoe. John is just that kind of guy.)
Canoeing at the Rez is just one of the many things John, Noah and other pairs of buddies have done over the years, but it’s a favorite.
They’ve also made steppingstones and built birdhouses. Noah’s birdhouse is bright (Vikings) purple and “the only one of my many birdhouses that the birds like,” said Kelli.
The buddies go to ballgames or hockey games. John goes to Noah’s school events and they go out to eat.
Kelli said as a single mom it is important to her that Noah spends time with men.
“He has his grandpa (Robert “Popeye” Hellerud), too, but the time Noah spends with John is just all about Noah — where he wants to go, what he wants to do, what he wants to eat,” she said.
“Sometimes even a kid with two parents doesn’t get that much attention for a whole day.”
She also said she wants Noah to spend time with mentors like John “to show Noah what successful people are like. John is successful in his job, in his life, in his marriage. That is the kind of person I want my son to look up to. Sometimes the people that kids have as heroes aren’t the best role models.”
Once in awhile Noah will spend time with John and John’s wife, Brenda.
“It’s so good for him to see a successful couple. In our family it’s just him and me,” Kelli said. “He also has grandparents who have been married 49 years and my sisters have long-term marriages. I want him to learn that marriages are forever, that families are long-lasting. You can’t learn that in school — you have to be in it and sit down and feel it.”
Noah takes a long, loud slurp of his pop.
Kelli continues, “And when he’s with John no one is reminding him to sit up straight, chew with your mouth shut, to say please and thank you.”
“Or ‘don’t slurp through your straw,’” Noah added.
“Mhmmmm,” Kelli says.
She said she knows she’s speaking for all the parents of little buddies when she says, “I appreciate what all the Big Buddies do. The time factor — that they make time to dedicate solely to someone else’s kid. They have such a huge heart to give that much to someone else. When you see all the stuff that’s going on in the world …”
John said people might be tempted to think that offering time and energy to a little buddy is a one-way street.
“I really want people to know that I get as much — if not more — out of our time together than my little buddy does,” he said. “And it’s a lot of fun.”