Superfan giving vets "Garth experience!"

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- Bubba Strauss says he's seen the country music legend 37 times since 1990. This year, he's sharing the tour with others as a way of saying "thank you."

He's treating veterans to a free show. He's following this year's tour across the country and asking veterans to tag along with him.

When Brooks is in Champaign April 30, Strauss is bringing a man who's not your typical UI student: a wounded warrior who has no shortage of stories to tell.

You could say Garth Brooks' superfan, Bubba Strauss, finds plenty of friends in all kinds of places. He meets with them for his "Veterans for Garth" experience.

As he follows the tour, Strauss connects with local veterans, takes them to dinner, then takes them to see who he calls "the greatest concert performer of all time."

Looking ahead to Brooks' local concert, he found Jeff Crowe.

"I've been going to college most of my life during my military career. I always wanted to finish my degree, but never got the chance to."

Crowe served in the Air Force for 21 years; retiring as a master sergeant.

"I was stationed up in Alaska, in a remote site in Alaska for a year. I was stationed in Europe for 11 years. I went to the falling of the Berlin wall."

Now, he's staying at the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans at the UI. Crowe started his service right before the Vietnam War. He recalls support for troops not being very popular.

"We had to be in uniform and people spitting on you, people throwing food and drinks on you, and just belittling you in every way they can."

Times have changed since then. But Crowe's love of country music has not, nor will his gratitude to Strauss' generosity and respect.

"It was just too good to be true, I mean, that somebody's doing this for veterans, and he does it all the time."

While studying at the UI, Crowe is continuing a more than 40-year career as an umpire and wants to go into sports management when he graduates.

He will certainly  get a break from his studies at the concert in a couple weeks. The man taking him there, Bubba Strauss, has a connection to Central Illinois. Strauss lives in Cleveland, but says he used to be a teammate of UI wrestling coach Jim Heffernan; both in high school and college.


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