A maroon 1926 Model T Ford touring car caught my attention. Gentlemen in front, ladies in back, all have smiles and twinkles in their eyes. At first they were all a little skeptical about all the questions. An extremely modest group, yet each one is amazing in his or her own right. Fast friends since high school, the four 1941 graduates arrange a time annually for their own reunion.
The Model T Ford belongs to Ronald Vassalli, Sr. the driver. He owns a 1930 Model T Ford coupe as well. Ron is happy to share his cars, traveling to parades or shows regularly. Still actively serving others as a Shriner and Mason at 90, that makes him special right off the starting line.
Ron started life in Maplewood in 1922. Early on, his family moved to Rock Hill, so Ron attended Brentwood schools. By high school, Ron and his buddy H.C. “Hap” Michener distinguished themselves as excellent athletes. Maxine Gray-Reisenleiter and Norma Hodges-Murphy reminisce together that Brentwood High never lost a track meet or basketball game due to the talent and determination of Ron and Hap. Not only was Ron a great athlete, but he also worked a sheet metal worker in the job training program during high school. Add to all that, he was an amazing dancer. He and Norma were the school Jitterbug Champions!
After high school, Ron responded to the call of duty to serve his country. He entered the Merchant Marines, moved on to Naval Reserve, and then became a member of a specialized unit in the Army. He is quite closed when discussing the activities of the unit. Most true heroes are that way. It is only with much prodding that Ron admits that he was promoted to Army Lieutenant for special service and acts of valor he would rather not even admit to performing.
During his service, in 1945, Ron married his sweetheart Katherine. She stood by him as a soldier. They stood together when he returned from war. They stood together to raise a 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. They stood together to build a company that spans generations-Vassalli Heating & Sheet Metal Inc. Together, they stand as a tribute to loyalty…67 years later, they are still together. That’s another reason to respect this remarkable gentleman.
There are more heroes among us than you might expect. Older, humble, loyal, patriotic, strong-willed, men and women who have a twinkle in their eyes and a story to amaze even the most jaded. Look around. Many could use a reminder that they are not forgotten. Say thank you. It may warm your soul.
For a look at fantastic four during their high school days, check out the 1941 Yearbook maintained by Brentwood High School Alumni Association: