My sorrow is caused by the death of my friend John Cisna earlier this month.
I got the bad news from his daughter Stephanie in an early phone call the morning after John was killed. Ironically, I was on the cell phone with my daughter when the home phone rang. Stephanie told me about the crash that took her father’s life, and I still wonder how she had the strength to make such calls.
Stephanie knew of her father’s long service to the USTA, and she told me she had to call the USTA to break the news.
Few people today remember that John was a successful trainer-driver in his earlier years and achieved extraordinary prominence in 1959 when he drove Hark Win to victory in the $52,050 Illinois State Colt Stakes. That purse doesn’t sound like much today, but it was higher than the purse for the Fox Stakes, the biggest prize for juvenile pacers, which was won that year by Bullet Hanover.
John was very active in Illinois fair racing and well known throughout the Land of Lincoln. He poured his heart and soul into the racing program at the Illinois State Fair. He was particularly proud of the Review Stakes and their long history at Springfield. He often asked me to research something about the Reviews for him or to write something to be used in the racing program at Springfield. I was happy to oblige him. I, too, value the Reviews and the Springfield racing program, and I’m aware of their role in harness racing history.
My day was always brighter when I’d answer the phone and hear his voice boom out with, “Cisna here!”
Last year I attended the races at the Illinois State Fair and was pleasantly surprised when John presented me with a Review Association Medallion in the winner’s circle. He thanked me for the assistance I’d provided over the years. The recognition was certainly unnecessary, but greatly appreciated.
I wasn’t at Springfield this past August, but a friend from Kentucky who drove out for the fair called and told me, “Cisna was the hardest working man on the fairgrounds. He was everywhere, taking care of everything.”
I think that’s how John Cisna would like to remembered. He sure loved that Springfield racing program.
His efforts knew no limits when it came to promoting harness racing in Illinois, particularly at the fairs. I’ve always thought that John could have won countless stuffed animals if he’d just gone to those “Guess Your Age” booths on the midway. John was 73 when he died, but there was no way in hell that anyone would’ve guessed him for that. He retained his youthful appearance and he had the energy and enthusiasm of a person half his age.
The John Cisna I knew was truly one of the good people in harness racing. He played a pivotal role in Illinois harness racing for decades and was the keystone of the harness program at the Illinois State Fair.
May he rest in peace.
Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.