EVANSTON, Ill. (STMW) — In such a tight-knit community as Evanston, word traveled fast about Keith Tucker’s athletic abilities.
Frank Himel, a student at Oakton Elementary School at the time, remembers going up against Tucker, then playing for the Robert Crown basketball team — a little guy, real fancy with the ball, dribbling between his legs, firing up shots from the outside.
“He was in grade school and somewhat of a phenomenon,” Himel recalled.
Himel’s dad, Ron, up in the stands, would call out, “C’mon, hot dog,” at the player’s cheeky antics.
Years later, after his son and Keith had become close, playing football together in middle school and then later at Evanston Township High School, Himel’s dad would still refer Keith as a “hot dog,” “but much more endearing,” Frank Himel recalled.
Frank Himel and others were left reeling last week at Tucker’s fatal shooting. Other members of the class of 1988 were exchanging e-mails, texting the news.
“He was a special person, so charismatic,” said Andrew “Buzz” Orr, a Pioneer Press photographer and friend and teammate of Tucker’s on the Wildkits 1988 baseball team. “His personality was such that he embraced every person — white, black, every person who came into contact with him.”
Scouring for leads
Police responded to a report of a man on the ground on the 2000 block of Church Street.
Once on the scene, officers located the victim, who had sustained a single gunshot wound to the head. Paramedics treated and transported him to a local hospital.
At 3:39 a.m. Dec. 8, the victim, Keith Bernard Tucker, 40, was pronounced dead.
According to police, preliminary investigative efforts indicated that Tucker had been in the company of one or two individuals at the intersection of Church and Grey Avenue at about 1:04 a.m., when one of the individuals produced a gun, which resulted in Tucker receiving a single fatal gunshot to the head.
Funeral services for Tucker are scheduled for Dec. 16 at Fisher Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, at 944 Elmwood Ave. Visitation is to take place between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., with services immediately thereafter.
Interment is to take place at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie.
Tucker attended Harper Community College one or two years after high school on a scholarship, said Kelda D. Harris-Harty, his god-sister. His football career was ended by an injury, she said.
Back at home, Tucker had some technical training in construction, and worked on a tunneling project near Haven Middle School.
Around family, he doted on his niece and nephews.
For many years the family lived on Greenleaf, where “Tuck’s” many friends felt free to drop in.
“It was like everybody was family,” she said.
“Everybody is at a loss. This is not just a family loss,” she said. “This is a community loss.”
Members of the ETHS baseball team approached Tucker for help when some other players became ineligible and there was a hole in the outfield.
“We needed a guy to rack fly balls and steal bases,” recalled Martin Freeman, a member of the team and now baseball coach at North Shore Country Day School. “He said, ‘no problem. I’ll come out there.'”
Later, when fellow player Kevin Foster (Class of 1987) made it to the big leagues, pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Keith would dutifully make sure they attended the games.
“You hear about a lot of tragedies,” Freeman said. “Keith Tucker was one of Evanston’s own.”
With a little more support from the school, he might have gone farther, thought Ara Kedjidjian, another class of 1988 member, now working as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
“That’s the first thing that swirled in my mind when this happened,” he said. “This guy had a lot of talent. On top of that, he just had greater personality, charisma.”
Himel, now an attorney living in Deerfield, played quarterback and Tucker was the cornerback on the 1987 team, which went to the state playoffs.
Of Tucker, “I’d say pound for pound he was the toughest football player I ever saw,” Himel said.
Like Kedjidjian, he wonders what might have been.
He remembered Coach Herb Williams and members of the state runner-up ETHS basketball team visiting Chute Middle School to deliver a motivational speech when he and Keith were eighth-graders.
Speaking to members of the Chute basketball team, Williams issued up a challenge, he said.
“You can go to school, go to college, or you can end up at Church Street University,” Williams told the young players.
Keith Tucker is survived by his mother, Ada, and father, Joseph Tucker; his brother, Joseph Tucker Jr.; niece Juelya Tucker; and nephews Joseph Tucker III and Javon Tucker.
–Pioneer Press, via the Sun-Times Media Wire
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)