Long before he was the most recognized sports anchor in Nashville, WSMV’s Rudy Kalis was something else, a 5-year-old Russian immigrant who arrived here with his family with little more than the clothes on his back.
“I was just 5, but I can still remember the smell of the steel on that ship,” Rudy told those in attendance at the annual Boyd Christian School Spring Benefit on Friday night. “I can still remember standing by my father when we entered New York Harbor on that sunny day.”
Rudy admitted it was a long road to where he is today, noting he didn’t begin on the best foot as he felt outcast because he was an immigrant child in Milwaukee where the family settled. Things were made worse because he got very bad grades.
“Are you not so smart, Rudy?” Kalis said in his father’s Russian accent, pointing out the words, while meant to inspire, actually hurt. “The things we say to our children, label them. We spend our entire lives trying to prove someone right or prove someone wrong.”
Rudy said the same thing was repeated in high school when he was the captain of the high school basketball team. He was made to sit out of a big rivalry game because he flunked a test and recalled having to watch the game through a crack in the door.
“I still remember how that made me feel,” Rudy admitted.
Rudy recalled his father was a great provider, working 32 years on the assembly line and never missing a day. Rudy admitted his resolve wasn’t quite as good.
“My parents sent me to trade school but the problem was that right across from the bus stop was the best pool hall in town,” Rudy laughed, saying he spent most of his first year “in college” in the pool hall. He eventually came home with a .9 GPA and was soon thereafter drafted into the service in 1966 for the Vietnam War.
Rudy said his time in the Air Force helped to mature him and that he went to college on the GI Bill.
“They looked at my grades from before and said … whoa,” Rudy smiled, adding they stamped the words “final probation” on his admission papers. He ended up graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with honors.
Rudy said he seemed to be swimming upstream when he entered television, finally landing a job in Nashville at WSMV in 1974. Prior to that time, he had been asked by a former employer if he would rather be in sales since it wasn’t thought he was a good TV personality.
That lack of confidence, Rudy admitted, kept brewing inside of him just like it had as a young immigrant child. He said the peace he was seeking came when a stranger stepped over to him at a res-taurant.
“He asked me if there was something wrong,” Rudy said, adding he eventually ended up speaking for hours with the man until, at one of their meetings, he asked if Rudy would give his heart to God. “I had been a Christian when I was young but then got away.”
Rudy said the man in the restaurant that day did something everyone will do at some point – leave a legacy. The question is what that legacy will be.
“All of us will leave a legacy,” Rudy said with a warning. “But you can’t leave something behind if you’re not legitimate.”
Rudy encouraged those in attendance to be a positive influence on those around them be-cause they might be the influence that guides someone in the right direction.
“Drop the rock of faith in the water and the ripples will go on forever,” Rudy concluded.