The adage goes that boxers don't have happy endings. Money and health problems seem to plague fighters from the lowliest jobber up to the best of the best. One had only look at Muhammad Ali or his arch rival Joe Frazier, who once commanded the national spotlight, to see how the lifestyle can catch up with anyone. With that said I was always glad that my grandfather happened to avoid these pitfalls and live a model life as far as I was concerned, one filled with hardship, hard work and eventual triumph.
Born to Italian immigrants in Oneonta, NY my grandfather was forced to fend for himself at a young age to make it through the great depression. After toiling in the Civilian Conservation Corps for a time he tried his hand at boxing, the sport of his hero Jack Dempsey. He racked up over 40 wins before suffering his first lost* and was the leading ranked welterweight so feared that the champ refused to fight him (instead choosing to fight my grandfathers sparring partner Marty Servo who would defeat him).
World War II cut my grandfathers fighting career short and when he returned he joined the Oneonta police force where he would stay for the next few years. Based upon his own experiences during the depression and fighting to keep a roof over his head (literally) my grandfather came to the decision that he would build a Boys Club so that no child would grow up with nowhere to go like he did. His organization started small working out of his backyard but slowly it grew, snowballing into a pillar of the community which is still thriving in the town (after several rennovations over the years the facility is gorgeous and rivals any YMCA I've ever seen).
I'm not one for gooey speeches, he wasn't perfect but who is? He lived an extraordianry life, fought as hard as he could, realized and sustained his dream and managed to hold a loving family in the process. He lived long enough to see several great grandchildren born and up until the end held his faculties and sense of humor. **
As far as life templates go I would have to say he's my # 1.
*An online source for boxing records has him in the system but their records don't hold up against newspaper clippings I have from when he fought. I know for a fact he was undefeated going into his 40th fight and have been working to correct this for years which is frustrating.
**A fact that wouldn't really fit anywhere but the man LOVED gadgets. My mom's theory was since he grew up dirt poor he wanted to possess the wildest stuff. My personal favorite was a megaphone which also had built in songs. He would walk around the gymnasium in his club blasting When The Saints Go Marching In and annoying the crap out of everyone. We had fun.