MILWAUKEE — People throughout southeast Wisconsin found opportunities to honor Hank Aaron, the iconic baseball player and civil rights leader, in their own ways Friday.
Some left bouquets of flowers near the statue of Hank Aaron that proudly stands as a symbol of strength outside American Family Field.
Two fans left handwritten notes.
One reads, “Thank you Hank, the real Home Run King.”
The other reads, “You were my dad’s hero as I was growing up, and soon became my hero. The world has lost a baseball legend and a humanitarian. Thanks Hank.”
“Hank Aaron is an absolute legend of the city and the country,” said Erik Witt, who felt compelled to visit American Family Field on the day of Aaron’s death. “He was part of our culture. He will be sadly missed but very well remembered for what he did on, and off, the baseball field.”
That pride is felt beyond American Family Field. Hank Aaron famously said, “My motto was always to keep swinging.” That quote is featured with a painting of Aaron swinging a bat, in a mural along the Hank Aaron Trail, in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley.
Marquayla Ellison, founder of Ellastic Designs, featured Hank Aaron in a label she created for Milwaukee’s Broken Bat Brewing Company. The company’s “Black is Beautiful” beer sold out in less than half-hour last summer. All proceeds went to a local organization dedicated to racial equity.
“It was nice to do something to honor him,” Ellison said. “There was a quote from him, where he said he hopes his legacy is that he did his best with what he had. That struck me. I’m trying to do that with my business as a graphic designer. It’s a message for everyone right now. Take what you love, take what you do, and be your best at it. It’s important for black people to see people who look like us, doing amazing things like Hank Aaron. It makes it inspiring and encouraging for others.”
Broken Bat Brewing Company tries to honor Hank Aaron as much as it can in its products and decor. They’ve created beers in his honor, like “755- The King” Imperial Stout. Aaron hit 755 home runs during his baseball career, earning him the nickname “Home Run King.”
“He won a World Series in Milwaukee with the Braves,” said Tim Pauly, the co-owner of Broken Bat Brewing Company. “He was an amazing player who overcame so much injustice. Hate and anger were directed at him for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record, but he always handled everything with grace, humility and class. He’s somebody I’m really proud to admire.”
For Robb Dobratz, Hank Aaron was more than a baseball legend.
"He would always ask about my kids and things like that and I called him Gramps every time I saw him the last three or four years," said Robb.
As the owner of Waukesha Sportscards selling sports memorobilia, Robb said he and Hank Aaron worked together exclusively on autograph signings for nearly 10 years. Aaron would often share stories and the two grew close.
"He’s the best player that’s ever played the game, but just the kindness that he had he’s just a friend. He’s a part of the family in our eyes. He’s going to be missed greatly and I just wish there was more time," said Robb.