OCSA Co-founder Vallie Szymanski and her husband Joe first met Rafer Weigel at a Bears Care Gala at Soldier Field in May of 2012 – the same year that our co-founder Susan Roman passed away from ovarian cancer. A very good conversation ensued regarding the OCSA Mission and our partnership with the veterinary community. Rafer graciously offered his assistance – “If you ever need my help with anything – please give me a call”. In 2014 we made that phone call and Rafer agreed to be the Honorary Chair of the Annual OCSA Golf Outing at Boulder Ridge Country Club in Lake in the Hills, IL. We were all very sad when he left for St. Louis but overjoyed that he has returned to Chicago, where he will once again be the Honorary Chair of 2018 Golf Outing.
OCSA: You have been an actor, a sportscaster and now you are a weekend news anchor for Fox 32 in Chicago – what is your true passion?
Rafer: My true passion is news. I grew up in a household where we were required to read the newspaper. While other kids were reading comics, I was reading Mike Royko. It was where I developed my passion for Chicago news. I went into acting in high school because I found out I was good at it. I pursued it early because I thought it was a natural career choice given my talents but I didn’t like the entertainment business.
I did sports because I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. After he passed away, I did just that because I felt a calling to carry the torch. But that’s when I realized sports was his forte and news was mine. Since moving to news I’ve never looked back or been happier.
OCSA: Can you tell us about your experience at KTVI in St. Louis? We understand you won an Emmy for anchoring the station’s coverage of Ferguson.
Rafer: I was on the anchor desk when Officer Darren Wilson was found “not guilty” by a grand jury. The city of Ferguson was practically burned to the ground. My co-anchor and I had to guide the ship during 6 hours of coverage. Our crews were dodging bullets from protesters and tear gas from police. It was the most intense work experience I had ever had. But many times because St. Louis is a smaller town, there wasn’t a whole lot that happened. I remember one day, the big story was six steers had broken free from a slaughter house and were running through the streets of St. Louis being chased by police cruisers. We had our chopper over it and everything. At that point I realized I truly was working in a cow town and it was time to get back home to covering the city I am truly passionate about.
OCSA: Your father, Tim Weigel, was a beloved Chicago broadcaster who spent most of his time as a television sports anchor. Can you tell us about him and the values he instilled in you?
Rafer: My father was always grateful for his success and never took it for granted. He greeted everyone exactly the same—from the security guard, to the mayor. He was kind to everyone who came up to him. I remember it used to bother me so much as a child when we would be trying to have lunch or enjoy a ball game as father and son and invariably people would come up and want to talk to him. He would always remind me that I needed to be thankful to those people because that meant he was doing a good job and therefore, I had a roof over my head.
Since then whenever a person comes up to talk to me that recognizes me I always ask them, “what’s your name?” That’s what he did and it always made the folks feel special. If they take the time to pay me a compliment the least I can do is ask them their name so I can thank them personally.
OCSA: You have a big heart and graciously give of your time and talent to a variety of charities – what inspires you to do this?
Rafer: I also learned from my father the importance of giving back and using this platform as a way to make a positive difference in people’s lives outside of the industry. God put me in this position for a reason and it’s my responsibility to honor that by spreading goodwill. It’s a duty that comes with the position and one I embrace happily.