JACKSON TWP. Alan Riley has worked as a grocery stocker on the night shift at Giant Eagle, including the location on The Strip in Jackson Township, for 32 years before retiring this past February. Two of his co-workers, Bryan Riddle and Kim Boughman, got more than 50 of his friends, family and other co-workers together at Bubba’s 33 for a retirement party on May 16 to celebrate Riley’s hard work and life.
As he entered the restaurant, everyone gathered around Riley to give him plenty of hugs, kisses and well-meaning handshakes. Riley was surprised and thrilled by the turnout for the party, especially with the news he received just several days before his party.
Riley, a Massillon resident, has been diagnosed with lung and kidney cancer. The prognosis is that he only has a short time to live.
He was expecting to spend his retirement fishing, going to car shows and running his radio-controlled boats. He’s still planning to do all of that plus spend time with friends and family.
“I’ve had several heart attacks over the past few years and three months ago I had robotic surgery on my heart,” Riley said. “Just recently I had a biopsy for a spot on my lung and I found out last week I have lung and kidney cancer.”
He said the doctors told him the cancer started in his kidneys and spread to his lungs and will spread to other organs. Riley is not able to take chemotherapy treatments because his heart isn’t strong enough.
All of the people showing up for his party was a much needed distraction. He was thrilled to spend time with everyone.
“I’m shocked because I didn’t expect this many people. I’m thankful for everyday and always happy to see my friends and family. This is just a great group of people that I’ve worked with over the years and I’m glad to see everyone here,” Riley said.
Riddle said he decided to get the group together to help Riley celebrate his life. He’s worked with him for more than 23 years.
“Everyone loves Al, he is one of the nicest guys anyone would want to meet,” Riddle said. “In my book, he’ll always be the rock bass king forever. He loves fishing for bass, and we like to joke around with him about his fishing.”
Riddle also said that Bubba’s 33 played a central role in getting the party organized. He worked with managing partner Tim Blondheim and service manager Gus Schuett to get the main eating area of the restaurant reserved for Gus’s party.
“When I first talked with Bryan about the party, he said there were maybe 20 people coming,” Schuett said. “Then a short time later, he called and said it was going be up to 80 people, so I talked with my boss and we decided it would work better in the main dining area. It’s part of culture at Bubba’s to do random acts of kindness. We’ve done things like go into Dunkin Donuts to buy everyone in there a coffee. We also have a great partnership with the S.A.M. Center in Massillon and work with a lot of non-profits. So, it was great we could do this for Alan.”
Riley’s son, Justin, came to the party. He has a daughter, Amie, that he hasn’t seen in 30 years. He said the nurses at the hospital were encouraging him to go see his daughter and he is hoping to do so soon.
Riley said his parents and his sister have all passed away from heart attacks. For now, Riley is receiving palliative care and is being monitored for his medications and to make sure he is comfortable.
He’s also planning to take it one day at a time, spend time with friends and family, go to car shows and of course he’s going to keep trying to catch that one big fish that will everyone will remember.