NELDON: Remembering a Michiana legend

Like many from this region, I grew up viewing Regis Philbin as an icon.

When I was very young, I enjoyed starting my summer mornings watching Regis and Kathy Lee — and later Regis and Kelly — with my mom and siblings over cereal.

Later on, racing some of the smartest people in the country to answer trivia became a family ritual, as we watched to find out who would become a millionaire.

Regis Philbin was the kind of celebrity known around the globe not only for his name, but for his iconic voice and personality. Those of us in Michiana, however, shared a special piece of his heart: a love for his beloved Notre Dame — and the greater South Bend region. Though born and raised in New York City, Regis was apt to call South Bend his second home.

When I learned this weekend that Regis passed away, like so many other Michiana residents, I was flooded with memories.

More than once, I joined a sea of blue, gold and green, returning cheers as Regis prepared the Fighting Irish football team and fan base at pep rallies in Notre Dame stadium. I remember thinking, “how does this tiny man have such a big voice?”

When my twin sister was being treated for kidney disease as a young child at Riley Children’s Hospital, I shared space with this celebrity as he visited the institution he philanthropically invested in for countless years.

And during my reign on the Apple Festival court in 2008, I met the celebrity — among other Fighting Irish icons like Lou Holtz — at the College Football Hall of Fame’s annual parade.

As countless celebrities have shared in the days since Regis’ passing, he was light, humble and charming, full of quips and wit.

When I first decided to study journalism, I struggled immensely with interviewing sources — shy and introverted as can be. More than a decade after Regis left his morning gig, I sat in my dorm room watching hours of clips of this expert interviewer sharing the stories of actors and actresses, movie producers, athletes and authors, studying his effortless flow from question to question.

While I could never hope to be as talented as this broadcasting legend, his affability, confidence and humility stuck with me and helped me survive those first years in journalism school.

Unlike many celebrities, when Regis Philbin made headlines, it was almost always for positive reasons — new shows, charitable gifts, his unceasing love for the Fighting Irish. He had a commitment to bettering every community he called home — from New York City to South Bend, Indiana.

Though his iconic voice will no longer blare over radio stations and game shows, I know the Michiana region will remember the mark he made for years to come.

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