ESCANABA - There is a voicemail message on Dennis Grall's phone that has remained there for the last four years. When Steve Mariucci calls you and lays down a 15-minute opinion on the initial retirement of legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, it's something to be relished.
The message was never erased because Grall is a man who appreciates his lot in life. It goes beyond appreciating the position he has held for 38 years - Sports Editor at the Escanaba Daily Press (and four additional years as a sportswriter at the Green Bay Press-Gazette) - he holds the utmost respect for it.
"To have the responsibility to be accurate and insightful, it's unbelievable to be trusted with that legacy. It's beyond belief and it's given me so many special memories," Grall said.
Citing family and prospective health, Grall's thought process over the last year has culminated in the difficult decision to retire on July 27.
"It's a lot of different things," Grall said of his reasons. "My parents both died at 69; I'm 66 with a pacemaker. My dad died of a heart attack.
"It's time to spend time with my wife and family. They haven't been ignored, but they've been on the back-burner for a lot of my life."
Denny Grall sits in the Silverdome pressbox during the Class A state championship game in 1979 when Escanaba played Detroit Catholic Central. (Dennis Grall photo)
A recognition of Grall's career and retirement party will be held July 23 at the Escanaba Civic Center from 4-7 p.m.
The job Grall has been doing during the last four decades has been called "impossible" by former Gladstone Braves football coach John Mileski. When one considers the vast body of work, the commitment demonstrated time and time again over three generations, and the never-ending capacity to continually do better, perhaps "impossible" really is the best descriptor.
For Grall, it's just been a great ride.
"It's always been fun, it's never been work," he said. "It's been a lot of hours, 10- to 14-hour work days, short nights before you're back at the desk, a lot of milage, and it's all worth it.
"I've never thought of this as a job. It's tedious at times, but there's usually something new every day as opposed to getting bored doing the same thing every day."
There are a multitude of factors that made the position one in which Grall flourished. For example, his charisma.
"I've had the pleasure of dealing with some fantastic people," he said. "The area coaches have been fantastic and so easy to deal with; and it certainly hasn't been work dealing with the kids (athletes).
Grall has always kept an open mind when it comes to the expansion of sports. Rather than complain about an additional workload, he has embraced new opportunities to reach more people, specifically citing the advent of Title IX.
"A career highlight has been seeing the start, growth and development of girls sports," Grall said. "To see so many get college scholarships and the Sara Boyer's and Nicole Elmblad's and so many others ... That wasn't even a thought when I first started here. It's a huge privilege to have been a part of that."
Grall also appreciates recording history and bringing great stories to readers.
"I love history. It was my favorite subject in school and to write about this area has been a treasure," he said. "It's so important. To have the responsibility of being accurate and insightful and to be trusted with that legacy is beyond belief. (The job) has given me so many special memories.
"There have been so many great teams. There was the 1970-71 Holy Name boys basketball team, probably the best basketball team I've been around. There was Gladstone's high school softball titles in 2004 and 2009, the Mid Pen girls basketball 1977 title. I had an excellent opportunity to cover the 1995 Little League World Series in Oregon - to see our area kids play against the world and doing well shows how strong our teams are; and to bring that back to our readers, what a thrill."
There is Grall's penchant for emphasizing the positive while overshadowing the negative.
"I've always tried to dwell on the positive and minimize the negative. This is winning the Stanley Cup for every one of these kids. You want to make it special for them," he said. "You have to talk about the fumbles and missed layups but I prefer to dwell on the positives. I learned in Vietnam to live in the moment and I've tried to carry that through to sports writing. I always stress the highlights."
The four-year hiatus Grall took at the Green Bay Press-Gazette made him realize all the more that the Escanaba Daily Press was where he wanted to be.
"The true meaning of sports is at this level and it isn't told anywhere else," he said of his decision to come back to Escanaba. "I realized this was the better fit, telling the small town stories rather than the big teams."
Grall's impact on the surrounding communities and across the Upper Peninsula will be felt for years to come. Over the years, Grall has covered three generations of athletes. No event was ever too small to be deemed 'not worth the time.' No school was called 'too far away' or 'not good enough.'
When questioned about his legacy, Grall said he wanted to be known as "the storyteller and scrapbook builder." A modest if not important description of a selfless man who has given all he could and more to the place he calls home.
"I've always been lucky and blessed. It's never been about me, I just want to do the best job I can because they (the athletes) do the best that they can," Grall said.
"I've often wondered why I've been so fortunate to be able to provide this opportunity."