GVSU alumnus publishes memoir

GVL / Courtesy - The Michigan Catholic

GVL / Courtesy – The Michigan Catholic

Arpan Lobo

The Grand Valley State University Laker Store will be exclusively carrying a memoir written by GVSU alumnus Bob Evancho.

“Lost Lakers: Grosse Pointe to Grand Valley—Cake Eater Meets Convict,” published in February 2017, will only be available online and at the Laker Store.

The book combines a lighthearted recollection of the author’s love for sports with his experiences at GVSU and an emotional reconnection with an old teammate.

“Lost Lakers” is the fifth published work by Evancho, who graduated from GVSU in 1975 with a degree in sociology. In the book, he tells two stories: his time growing up in Southeast Michigan and his discovery of a past acquaintance he shared the field with.

“Initially, the book started out to be a sports memoir,” said Evancho, who spent two seasons on the GVSU football team as a walk-on in the early 1970s. “It was meant to just cover the first 22 years of my life up until the time I graduated from Grand Valley.”

Evancho originally intended the book to be “humorous and self-deprecating,” a retelling of his young life and admiration for sports. But, as he approached writing about his time at GVSU, his story had to take a much more serious turn.

“The first part of the book is about my misadventures in sports, including my time at GVSU,” Evancho said. “But the next part of the book is Hook’s story.”

Reginald “Hook” Johnson attended GVSU in the early 1970s and walked onto the football team in 1972, the same year Evancho did. Before Johnson made his way to GVSU, he had been convicted twice for armed robbery, first in 1966 and again in 1968.

When Johnson joined the team, GVSU football was a far cry from the program that now has the highest winning percentage in the NCAA’s Division II.

Johnson carried a reputation on the team. According to Evancho, “Hook” was someone who caught more attention than the average walk-on.

“He was a very intimidating individual, an ex-con who had this kind of mean streak about him, but at the same time, he was also very charismatic,” Evancho said of his former teammate. “He could be funny and intimidating in the same breath.”

Johnson’s charisma eventually earned him recognition outside of the football team. In 1974, he was elected as vice president of the student body, the equivalent of student senate today.

“He just kind of drew people to him,” Evancho said.

Johnson had overcome his previous arrests and convictions to play at GVSU.

While writing “Lost Lakers,” Evancho sought out his old teammate. This led to the discovery that Johnson was back in prison, this time serving a life sentence for his roles in homicides from the year 1975. Johnson was found guilty on four counts of second-degree murder and on one count of first-degree murder.

Evancho spends the final chapters of “Lost Lakers” detailing the discussions he had with someone he had perceived to have turned his life around.

“It was quite emotional,” Evancho said.

After tracking Johnson down through the Michigan Department of Corrections, the two started a correspondence through letters, phone calls and emails from July 2014 until August 2015.

“The problem was that he, as a prisoner, was only allowed 15 minutes per phone call,” Evancho said. 

Johnson also had very limited access to email. 

“Our interviews were in fits and spurts,” Evancho said.

Evancho, a native of Detroit who currently resides in Boise, Idaho, visited Johnson in the summer of 2015. Their reunion was powerful.

“It was quite an emotionally driven (interview),” Evancho said. “He broke down, he talked about what happened, why it happened and how he’s tried to make things right.”

Johnson is currently held in the Detroit Reentry Center. He has been serving a life sentence since 1975. Evancho spends two chapters of his book detailing his talk with his former teammate.

“You’ll see it when you get to the book,” he said. “The writing’s emotionally charged and the interview certainly was. I’ve had people tell me that it’s a very powerful part of the book. I’ll let (the readers) be the judge of that.”

“Lost Lakers” will be available at the Laker Store soon, and it is currently available through Amazon.com.