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In twilight of life, Novoselick makes peace with foe

1. To establish friendship between.
2. To settle or resolve, as a dispute.
3. To bring (oneself) to accept.
4. To make compatible or consistent.
-- The Second College Edition, The American Heritage Dictionary

Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Susan Harrison Wolffis
Muskegon Chronicle

As reconciliations go, theirs fell short of a happy ending.

But at least a handshake was exchanged.

On the afternoon of June 10, under extraordinary circumstances that speak volumes about the character of two men once in public conflict, Paul Novoselick and Jim Moyes mended a few fences in private.

For an hour and a half, they had a conversation that was, at times, both emotionally revealing and consistently stubborn: Novoselick in a hospital bed in his living room; Moyes in a chair at his side.

"Did you know that my dad had the same thing you have?" Moyes suddenly blurted out, a few minutes into the meeting.

"I didn't then," Novoselick conceded. "I found that out later."

Novoselick, 50, is in the end stages of a 20-year struggle with multiple sclerosis. A former Muskegon Chronicle business reporter and columnist, he is on sick leave and under the care of Hospice of Muskegon-Oceana.

Moyes' father, the late Paul Moyes, an accomplished athlete and former North Muskegon High School coach, died in 1960 at the age of 45.

"Did you know I have a girl?" Novoselick asked.

"Yeah, she got the Moyes Award this year," Moyes said.

Alissa Novoselick, who graduated from North Muskegon High School in June, was chosen by her teachers and school administrators to get the Moyes Award for sportsmanship.

"I've heard nothing but good things about her," Moyes said, professional animosities dissipating. For the moment, they were just a couple of dads talking.

It was the first time the two had spoken since 1992 when Novoselick filed a letter of complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice about the Bear Lake Inn for failing to provide wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

Moyes owns the Bear Lake Inn.

In 1994, the Department of Justice sued the North Muskegon neighborhood tavern under Title III of the then-new Americans with Disabilities Act. It was the first Michigan lawsuit filed under the act. The department and Moyes had negotiated for a year before the civil suit was filed.

"The first time I knew about (the lawsuit) was through the media ... when three TV stations showed up," Moyes told Novoselick the day they finally talked. "There was no question whether I was going to do it (remodel the restroom) ... it was just a matter of having enough time to do it."

For a year, Moyes fought the lawsuit.

"They were making me a scapegoat," he told Novoselick. "I kept thinking: Don't you people have something better to do? I was very saddened when all this happened, to tell you the truth, to a guy who's been pretty good around here."

In 1995, after spending $20,000 on attorney fees "which was my kids' college education," Moyes told Novoselick, he settled with the Justice Department. He agreed to spend $20,000 to remodel existing space into a unisex, handicapped-accessible restroom in the bar.

Any money left over from that figure was to be donated to Novoselick and several others listed on the lawsuit. Novoselick donated $3,000 of his $4,000 portion to the Disability Awareness Council of West Michigan; he spent the other $1,000 on gift certificates he gave to the disabled to use at the Bear Lake Inn.

The lawsuit was Novoselick's most public bit of advocacy, although as he reminded Moyes that day in June, and anyone who will talk about the lawsuit, his name is not on it.

"I didn't sue you," Novoselick said. "I just wrote the letter. The Justice Department sued you."

That was just one of the things Novoselick wanted to tell Moyes face to face.

"Well, Jim, you probably wonder what the heck I want to talk with you about," Novoselick said to him.

"You got that right," Moyes said.

Since January, after Novoselick regained consciousness in the hospital following his most recent in a series of disabling multiple sclerosis episodes, he's told friends and family that he had to talk to Moyes.

"I think he hates my guts," Novoselick said.

On June 9, at Novoselick's request, I called Moyes with the invitation to talk. Moyes suggested the next afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

"I've had some real bad MS events. Maybe you know that," Novoselick said, taking his time with words he had thought out over for years.

His voice has been affected by multiple sclerosis. He speaks slowly, words sometimes slurred, his voice quite raspy.

Moyes, who usually speaks at the pace of a Gatling gun in use, kept his peace and let Novoselick finish.

"I look at this time now as an extra lease on life," Novoselick told him. "One of my goals is to make amends, to express my gratitude and condolences to people I may have come in conflict with. I feel in my heart that's what I should do.

"You were at the top of my list, Jim," Novoselick said. "I want you to know I didn't ever intend to cause you any pain or financial loss."

"Well, you stirred my tempest, that's for sure," Moyes said.

And so it went, their conversation going in fits and spurts, making each other laugh almost as often as they made each other mad.

They spoke about all the things they have in common. They both have yellow Labs. They both live and breathe Michigan State University sports. They both have children who graduated from North Muskegon High School. They both live on the same stretch of road, just a few miles from one another, one on Ruddiman Drive; the other on Memorial Drive.

"On the poor side, huh, Paul?" Moyes teased him at one point in the conversation, making Novoselick laugh.

Neither has lakefront property.

"By the way, Jim, I can't let you go without saying I enjoy you on high school football," Novoselick said.

Moyes is a fixture on local radio, broadcasting football games with Gene Young.

But Novoselick and Moyes could only go so long before returning to the original subject: the lawsuit.

"It was never anything personal," Novoselick said. "I think of (the Bear Lake Inn) as my neighborhood bar, and I just wanted to be able to go there and be able to use the bathroom."

"I never thought it was personal, Paul," Moyes said. "You went after everybody."

At his peak, Novoselick never backed down from a fight for equal rights for the disabled.

"Did you know we got threatening and obscene phone calls (after the lawsuit was filed)?" Novoselick asked.

"Not from me, you didn't," Moyes answered.

And again.

"I remember one time, you called me and said obviously I didn't have anyone in my family who was handicapped," Moyes said. "How many times did I have to clothe or bathe my dad? I thought, 'You've got the wrong guy, buddy."'

"That doesn't sound like me, Jim," Novoselick said. "That's not my style."

They never could agree on whether that conversation happened or what might have been said, but it opened up the real subject they have in common.

Multiple sclerosis and what it does to a family.

"My dad had it the worst in the world, but he never complained," Moyes said.

His father never had the chance to see him or his brother play ball, he told Novoselick. Moyes' brother, Tommy, lost a leg in a car accident when he was in his 20s; a few years later, he was killed in a car accident.

"I've been around handicapped people all my life," Moyes said.

"Did your dad ever lose consciousness?" Novoselick asked him.

Moyes shook his head no; not that he could remember, he said.

"He couldn't talk. He couldn't walk. He lost his vision. He was in bed all the time," Moyes said.

"I prepare for that day," Novoselick said.

The silence between them was eloquent, but emotionally overpowering.

"I've wondered if maybe I reminded you of your dad ... maybe that's why the lawsuit was such a problem," Novoselick finally said.

"I'd like to let sleeping dogs lie ... not talk about the lawsuit anymore," Moyes said. "It was a bad, bad period of my life, and I'm trying to forget it."

He moved around in the chair, situated so close to Novoselick's bed.

"I sure don't wish anything bad to happen to you, that's for sure," he said.

There seemed little more to say. As reconciliations go, theirs wasn't perfect, but it was a start.

"Maybe we should have had this conversation 12 years ago," Novoselick said.

Copyright © 2004, Muskegon Chronicle