“Becoming a physical therapist is hard work,’’ I said to the high school senior while tossing him another baseball to place on the batting tee.
“I know, coach,’’ he responded. “I know.’’
“We’re talking high grade-point average, lots of time and lots of effort just to get into PT school,’’ I continued. “You know the process will separate you if you cannot keep up and do things the right way. You have to be a people person.’’
“I know, coach.’’
“Will I have to call you ‘Dr. Kaschke’?’’
“No, coach. But I I’m going to work right over there.’’
The young man in the batting cage was Daniel “Danny’’ Kaschske, one of Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s newest residents.
“Over there’’ was/is Moline’s 43rd Ave administration building for Rock Valley, which was a working clinic at the time Kaschke and I were doing extra batting duty at the Alleman High School Sports Complex. The baseball field at the complex is approximately 500 feet from the Rock Valley site.
Today, eight years later, Dan Kaschke, a second generation Rock Valley therapist, is honing his skills at Davenport, Iowa-based Five Points clinic.
Dreams do become reality.
Dan Kaschke is the son of the late Steve Kaschke, a top-flight therapist, a wonderful husband, father and friend, who left an amazing imprint on patients and colleagues in his eight years as a member of the Rock Valley family. He passed in 2000 from complications from a bone marrow transplant.
The youngest of four children to Steve and Kathy — she, an incredible and selfless wife and mother — Dan Kaschke was just four years old when his father left us at age 36.
“I don’t know what are stories or memories about his office at (Moline, Illinois’ Valley View Drive clinic), but I remember the tiny office in the back being super crowded and my dad always having candy at his desk,’’ said Dan Kaschke, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Missouri (health sciences) and earned his doctorate in physical therapy from St. Ambrose University. “Whether I remember if they are stories that became memories, they are still good ones.’’
Personable, bright, big-hearted and caring, Dan Kaschke still has his father’s signature “Kashke 1’’ license plates he uses for his own vehicle. And yes, he knows it is spelled wrong, but there is a “Steve Kaschke’’ story behind the plate and his ability to stretch a dollar.
“If you got just all letters it cost more than if you had only so many letters and a number,’’ Dan Kaschke said. “He had four kids. Good planning.’’
To the average onlooker, it appears Dan Kaschke had designs on his chosen field from an early age, but truth-be-told his career path was not formed until a job shadow — his junior year of high school — with Rock Valley founder Steve Layer. While impressed with all he witnessed watching great clinicians that day, it was Layer’s electric personality that stood out.
“Mr Layer introduced me to a patient he was treating that was my dad’s old patient,’’ Dan Kaschke said in a recent sit down at the Five Points clinic. “It had been a long time, but that patient could remember things about him, qualities about my dad, and it made me understand how you form long-term relationships. I wanted a profession that established relationships like the ones at Rock Valley, the ones that carry on for years.
“I saw that day that Mr. Layer knew everyone like they were his best friend,’’ Dan Kaschke added. “He knew some of those people for 20 years and others nowhere near as long, but he was great with everyone. He was the friend you were just walking in on and everyone loved being around him. It was an amazing atmosphere. I also noticed that all the therapists were giving each other a hard time and the patients were loving it. It takes a special group to do that.’’
The final piece, Dan Kaschke realized, was knowing he was — and always would be — a welcomed member of the Rock Valley family.
“Even though I haven’t always been around, I have always felt I was a part of the Rock Valley family,’’ said Dan Kaschke, who worked as a technician at Rock Valley’s Crow Valley (Bettendorf, Iowa) clinic during breaks from college. “I have always been welcome.’’
To a person, his peers will tell you Steve Kaschke was a tremendous therapist whose mind was always working to better the lives of those he served. He, however, was also his own man and not afraid to speak his mind, yet was willing to listen to other ideas. He had a unique and gracious rapport with his patients and countless admirers among his peers. He was all that is right about his profession, but truly shined as a husband and father.
“He was a great family man and a man of great integrity,’’ Layer said of Steve Kaschke. “He was passionate and oh so dedicated to his patients. He was engaging. You always admired his passion, his dedication and his deep love for his family.’’
Holly Wilkinson (MPT, OCS, CEEA), Clinic Manager/Advanced Senior Physical Therapist at Rock Valley’s Silvis, Illinois-based clinic, worked alongside Steve Kaschke for years. Wilkinson admired his determination, his love of family and laughingly was envious how Kathy Kaschke — while running a family and handling hundreds of details each day as a school teacher — could provide the world’s best lunches for her husband.
“First thing you realized about Steve was his love of his family,’’ said Wilkinson, one of life’s truly amazing souls and a top-notch judge of character. “He was such a great family man and Kathy really took care of him. I was always envious of the lunches he brought into the clinic. They were well-rounded and looked so much more appetizing than mine. Kathy is amazing. One thing that Steve and his family did that I adopted for my only family was breakfast in bed on your birthday.’’
When Steve Kaschke took ill, his peers rallied. To a person, everyone knew if they needed help, he would be the first to step up. So they stepped forward.
“When Steve was diagnosed, it was tough on us all,’’ Wilkinson added. “ When we found out and knew that Steve was going to have to take some time off, I marched up front and let our front office know that if there was anything I could do to help I would do it. If it were staying late or coming in early, you did it because you knew that Steve would do the same. There are many days when I may have had a challenging day as a clinician or a manager and have thought to myself: ‘What Steve Kaschke would have done to have that day,’ and it gets me through.’’
Aside from their work, Greg Blaske (Senior Physical Therapist/OCS/FAAOMPT) and Steve Kaschke were fast friends. Their good-natured jabs covered a wide range of topics. Blaske was a pallbearer for Steve Kaschke and still visits his gravesite just to update his pal and assure him all — in these parts — are well.
“We had a fun relationship in my mind,’’ Blaske said. “We always would have a jab at each other for many things, from how we treated a patient or a comment made in the gym while working together at Valley View Drive. I was in the process of losing my hair and Steve had no issues pointing that out to me on various occasions. It was all fun and games, but I would make some comment back to him about his appearance that day to try to balance it out.’’
Even when Steve Kaschke was struggling mightily — just days after a bone-marrow transplant — he and Blaske were tossing jabs and one-liners.
“When Steve was undergoing the bone marrow transplant and then he had graft-host rejection which required much medication to fight this issue, I went to Houston (Texas) to give Kathy a weekend off and hang with Steve,’’ Blaske said. “Of course the Rock Valley staff was super generous and sent with me many goodies to give to him and Kathy. I was to get in on a Friday afternoon but plane delays got me to Houston about midnight. I called Kathy because I was to meet her at their apartment and spend the night then go over and see Steve on Saturday, but I stayed at the airport and drove directly to the hospital on Saturday.’’
What Blaske saw was his pal struggling. He approached the situation the same way he thought Steve Kaschke would handle things if roles were reversed
“When I got there he was on a walk with a walker, IV-stand and a nurse and not looking very happy,’’ Blaske said of Steve Kaschke. “ Before I got to his floor, I was unsure how to talk with him since it was a bad time in his treatment and all was not going well.
“I told myself to just act like you always do around him and that is what he would expect. So when I saw him and he saw me, his skin was a red tint from the rejection and was completely bald. He said: “What the hell are you doing here, Blaske?’’
“I told him I had to come down and check out for myself the great lengths he was going to look like me with my balding head,’’ continued Blaske. “He began to roar with laughter. The nurses said they had never heard him laugh since he was there and it was great. For the rest of that weekend we just hung out in his room. They had a “Murphy’’ bed in there so I slept in his room like a sleepover. We had a great time picking on each other and laughing and talking about our kids and how much of a good life we had. It was great for me and I am sure Steve thoroughly enjoyed it as well.’’
For Dan Kaschke, the plan is simple. Be the best therapist he can be, establish long-term relationships with patients and invest his energy in building on the legacy of his father and the many Rock Valley therapists before him.
““Guys like Greg, like Kevin Farrell, Mark Levsen and Todd Kersten — all great minds and therapists — when they say I do something like my dad, it’s the biggest compliment I can be paid,’’ Dan Kaschke said. “I want to make my own way, to establish relationships with patients, but I want to do it the right way, the way my dad did it and the way those before me have done it at Rock Valley. I’m still the new guy — that’s what they call me — so I want to learn all I can and be the best I can be. But it does mean a great deal to me when people talk about my dad or see something in me that he had.’’
With respect to his father, Dan Kaschke also wants the world to know he would not be where he is today with the love and support — on numerous fronts — from his mother, Kathy.
“I think I have grown to admire what my mother has done and to appreciate it more than ever,’’ he said. “Think about all the sacrifices she made with four kids. I never grew up thinking I was any different than any of the other kids because I lost my dad, because my mom truly put her children ahead of her needs and desires. Quite honestly, I don’t think a lot of people could do what she did and do it as successfully as she did. All four of us admire her and appreciate what she did for us. She is an amazing person. I was only four when my dad died, but from what I remember and from stories from lots of people, they were pretty great together. I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity.’’
And ready to walk the path his father helped pave for him.
By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller