EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — Stubbornness and pride carried Randy Nank through the struggles of teenage parenthood, bodily injury and ultimately, terminal illness.
He dreamed realistically. Provide for your family and surround yourself with those you care about.
Hard work was both a necessity and a source of pleasure. Randy made do with what he had.
“He didn’t have the luxury of being able to dream,” said his daughter, Misty Winders. “When you’re filling a man’s role at a boy’s age, you just don’t get that luxury.”
Randy, 62, died of cancer on Sept. 19 at his East Dubuque home.
For 19 years, he used the same flip phone he purchased at Walmart for $20, refusing to get a new one even after the screen cracked.
“You know what I do with my phone?” Randy would say. “I call people.”
Randy was born Dec. 2, 1958, in Dubuque and raised by Edward and Nancy Jaeger. Randy was the middle child of five. He had three brothers — Skip, Rick and Edward — and one sister, Crystal.
In 1975, Randy met Valorie Croft at The Wizard, a neighborhood pinball joint.
“I thought he was cute,” she said. “I liked the sassiness, to be honest. He was kind of cocky.”
They played, and the game grew competitive. Randy won.
Randy and Valorie began dating within a couple of weeks, spending time together cruising down gravel roads and drinking at cemeteries and house parties.
The same year, Randy dropped out of Dubuque Senior High School. It bored him, and even in his youth, he enjoyed nightlife. He later would obtain his General Educational Development diploma.
Valorie became pregnant with Randy’s first child, Misty. Randy was 16. They married, the start of a 46-year relationship.
“We loved each other,” Valorie said.
During the 1980s, they moved several times, first relocating to Louisiana in search of work. Randy learned how to cook spicy jambalayas and prepare a good crawfish boil.
Their second child, Chad, was born in 1983 at a charity hospital in New Orleans. Randy also was staying at the facility following an incident three days earlier.
“It was New Year’s Eve,” Valorie said. “He and his brother Eddie went out drinking, had a good time and ended up getting in a car accident.”
Josh, their youngest child, was born the next year. The family moved to Florida, then back to Iowa to be closer to Valorie’s family.
As the eldest child, Misty was the de facto caretaker of her younger brothers while her parents worked — sometimes two or three jobs at a time. Chad was a handful like his father, while Josh remained in the background, well-mannered.
Randy expected his children to live with integrity.
Misty recalled watching him play a game of Spades when she was about 7 years old. She tried to slip Randy an extra card, but he rejected her offer.
“Cheaters never prosper,” Randy told her.
Shortly after the family returned to Dubuque, they moved to a home outside the city limits. The kids rode bikes in their quiet neighborhood and built forts in the woods that surrounded it.
The family did not have much in material possessions, but they never wanted for necessities.
“We always had clothes for school,” Josh said. “There were never Christmases where we ended up waking up disappointed.”
Before moving to Louisiana, Randy worked at a foundry and subsequently discovered painting. He purchased and operated Perfection Painting Co. for more than 25 years.
Randy was a thrill-seeker in search of a challenge. He took up hobbies such as scuba diving, rappelling and motorcycle riding. He enjoyed fishing for crappies and bluegill near Menominee Slough and a night out shooting pool at Knicker’s Saloon in Dubuque.
A life of painting wore on his body. The repetitive motion and heavy lifting strained his shoulders, leaving him in constant pain. Randy soldiered on.
“He thought his body would last forever,” Josh said.
Randy was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019. He appeared to be cured after undergoing chemotherapy and surgery. But in April, Randy’s chronic back pain increased and he began vomiting blood.
Doctors discovered a highly aggressive form of lung cancer. His condition worsened.
Even while sick, Randy busied himself with rock collecting, lawn mowing and jewelry crafting in his basement. He purchased scraps of silver, melted them and forged rings. He made Valorie two, inlaying stones in each.
The date of Randy’s terminal cancer diagnosis, he and Valorie drove home from the hospital together. He held her hand.
Randy broke the silence by assuring her he would never give up. Things would be OK, he said.
“But he really knew it wasn’t going to be,” Valorie said. “I miss him.”
If Randy had been scared, he never showed it. He turned his attention to his wife.
“He ended up paying my house off,” Valorie said. “He bought some new appliances that we needed, made sure I had a decent vehicle.”