Dave Bakke: Stolen concrete lion more than a statue

Dave Bakke

A concrete lion was stolen from outside Ron Bitschenauer’s Springfield home last week. The thieves who took it probably think that what they stole was just a lion. It was more than that.

The lion was in its usual place, next to the mailbox by the curb, when Ron and his wife, Mary, returned home at about 11 p.m. Tuesday the 24th. But on Wednesday morning, the lion was gone. Thieves had apparently come during the night, loaded up the 300-pound lion and disappeared.

Weirdly enough, on Thanksgiving Day, Ron awoke to find an orange traffic cone where the lion once stood.

Back in 1970, Ron and Mary started By-Pass Auto Body. In 1998, they turned the business over to their sons, Bob and Bill. The longtime Springfield business is on Clear Lake Avenue.

Ron has the lion because he has been a Detroit Lions fan for years. So, I asked, could one of his friends (a Bears fan perhaps?) have taken it as a practical joke to tease him because the Lions have been so bad for so long?

“I thought of that,” Ron says, “but I called everybody I know who might do that.”

Ron doesn’t think someone took it as a practical joke because four more statues in his neighborhood have disappeared in the past week. Besides, his friends would remember who gave Ron that lion in the first place and would know better than to mess with it.

“My son bought that for me,” Ron says. “It was a Christmas present.”

About seven years ago, Ricky Bitschenauer bought that lion for his dad, the Lions fan. Then, on the morning of March 17, 2007, Ron and Mary were at By-Pass Auto Body when they saw an ambulance speed down Clear Lake, obviously rushing a patient to a Springfield hospital.

Ron left to do some yard work for a friend when his cell phone rang. It was Mary. The ambulance they had seen go by was carrying their son. Ricky died that morning, leaving a wife and four sons behind. He was only 48.

That is why that lion means more to Ron than being a symbol of his favorite football team.

Ron called the police but doesn’t think anything can be done. He asked whether fingerprints could be lifted from the orange traffic cone, but it doesn’t appear likely.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Ron says. “Me and my other son, Bobby, put the lion out there. It had to be two people who took it. One person couldn’t lift it.”

Ron and his late son, Ricky, worked together for 10 years at By-Pass.

“That lion was kind of special,” Ron says. “It was pretty devastating when he died. That’s the second son we buried. We lost a boy who was 2 1/2 years old back in 1963.”

Ron hopes that the story of his late son giving him this gift will reach the right people and someone will have a heart and bring the lion back.

“Just drop it off,” he says, “no questions asked.”

State Journal-Register columnist Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 ordave.bakke@sj-r.com.