In his many roles in Wilber area, BJ Fictum, 54, ‘always kept other people first’
The life of BJ Fictum could be told in so many ways.
The emergency manager who seemingly never slept and threw every ounce of his giant frame into protecting the people of Saline County.
The small-town sports reporter and photographer who believed that every kid and every sport mattered, and who criss-crossed the county to catch events at even the smallest school.
The gregarious, self-taught weather expert whose annual severe weather workshops drew upward of 300 people.
The diabetic who cheated death time and again, who lost his legs but never stopped “running.”
Even in his final years, when he used a wheelchair, Fictum could be seen on the sidelines of a football game or around the edges of the basketball court, wheeling around to get just the right photo.
“He was the kind of guy every community wants,” said Jamie Bates, wrestling coach at Wilber-Clatonia High School. “He had a great sense of humor, he loved life. He was a down-to-earth kind of guy, but his best trait was that he really cared about the kids in our community.”
But any story about Fictum couldn’t be told without talking about love.
Fictum suffered a series of life-threatening health problems and depended upon his father to drive him from Wilber to Lincoln for dialysis. When his father died in a farm accident in 2017, the community stepped in, and his neighbors each took turns at the 80-mile round trip. That went on three times a week until Fictum was able to purchase a hands-only van.
Bruce “BJ” Fictum died Dec. 8 of a massive heart attack at age 54. The funeral was Saturday at Wilber’s Sokol Hall.
“Everybody around here is better for knowing BJ,” said Roger Douglas of Crete, who crossed paths with Fictum in the worlds of sports and weather. “He always kept other people first. He wrote about people. He ‘accoladed’ them. He enjoyed being an advocate.”
John Reeves, the former longtime publisher of the Crete News, spoke warmly of Fictum in an obituary published in the Crete paper. Fictum was passionate about covering local school sports, Reeves said.
“He would fill up the paper with words every week about his schools. He was adamant about making sure they got in,” Reeves said, even when it came to pushing deadlines. “He’d beg us to wait a little longer until he got the results ... and he wanted us to cover every kid.”
John McKee, the current emergency manager in Saline County, said Fictum worked to get grant money to fund emergency services and disaster recovery. He noted the help Fictum provided in bringing a weather radio transmitter to Saline, Jefferson and Gage Counties so that people could receive timely weather warnings.
“He was always there to help, anytime of the day or night,” McKee said. “We’d wake up in the morning, and the rest of us (emergency managers) in the area would have emails that he sent out at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning.
“He wanted to make sure things were going good.”
Ken Dewey, a climatologist at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln who worked closely with Fictum on the severe weather workshops, said the two struck an instant friendship.
“He could manage a crisis better than the average person because he had such good communication skills,” Dewey said. “He had the drive to succeed and to help other people at the highest level I’ve ever seen in another human being.”
His mother, Carol Fictum, said the outpouring of affection in the wake of her son’s death has been heartwarming, even more so since she lost her husband and only other child, a daughter, in the past two years.
“All the love that was shown to him is now being shown to me,” Carol Fictum said.“It’s amazing to see how many people knew him, how many lives he touched.”
Carol and her husband, Ramon, adopted BJ in 1964, when he was 3 months old, from the Child Saving Institute in Omaha. They later adopted their little girl, Gwen (Fictum Buntgen).
Her son embraced the Czech heritage of his adoptive parents, she said. He was Czech prince as a youngster and went on to help with Wilber Czech Days and the Saline County Fair.
BJ was bright and energetic from the get-go, she said. An accomplished pianist, he was the accompanist for a national high school choral group that toured Europe.
Of her son, Carol Fictum said, “if all people had that kind of compassion and caring, wouldn’t the world be a better place?”
In January, after his heart stopped, BJ Fictum posted this on Facebook:
I have also been musing about what plan the Man upstairs has for me, especially with four heart attacks since last November. I really shouldn’t be walking around.
I wondered: Can one seek a greater meaning to life than spending it walking a thin line that separates one disaster from another?
I know what all people of action know. Most of life is lived following a routine, waking in the morning, eating, working, eating, playing, and sleeping through the night. The common fluctuations in daily routine do little to make one day different from the next.
Then, in the midst of great boredom, the call to action sounds and the excitement begins. The basketball bounces down the court, the wrestler gets a pin, the gridiron player scores the touchdown, the volleyball enthusiast spikes the kill across the net. At that moment, the important things of life become as clear and valuable as a royal jewel.
The heart pounds, the body sweats and the brain races. In the heady rush that follows, we know we are alive. That’s why I love covering area sports and interacting with everyone — it makes me feel alive — and I miss it.