Eulogy, Ernest L. Albanese, Sr
At the turn of the last Century, around 1903 in fact, the song that was to become Ohio State’s Alma Mater, "Carmen Ohio", was composed. It first appeared in print in the 1906 Ohio State - Michigan football program.
Quoting a few lines from it:
Our hearts rebounding (fill), with joy which death alone can still.
The seasons pass, the years will roll,
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship ... O-HI-O !
Though age may dim our memory's store
We'll think of happy days of yore
True to friend and frank to foe
As sturdy sons of O-HI-O !
Today we are here to say a final farewell to someone who surely was one of Ohio's sturdy sons:
Ernest Lewis Albanese
Born: September 30, 1909
Died: December 5, 2006
Aged 97 years, 2 months, 5 days
My father lived a long, long life and consequently enjoyed a perspective on living few men ever attain.
His life encompassed over 40% of the time since this nation was founded in 1776. His parents, Gaetano and Emilia, met and fell in love here in America after passing through Ellis Island from Italy. He experienced firsthand the hardships and prejudices encountered by immigrants at the beginning of the 20th Century, as well as this Land's unlimited promise and opportunity. In his lifetime he spoke to veterans of the Civil War as well as see a granddaughter go to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He saw our boys march off to "the war to end all wars", World War I and then he himself left from a train station in Barnesville, as his wife and her parents waved goodbye, to fight in New Guinea and the South Pacific during World War II. He saw his infant brother and many of his grade school classmates die in the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918; yet he lived to see Polio conquered and heart transplants save lives. He was born at a time when the horse was still the main means of transportation and indoor plumbing and electricity were rare; yet he saw a man walk on the Moon and space probes explore the outer reaches of our solar system.
Dad was not physically a big man but he had big, innovative ideas, a big heart and the courage to match.
Although sometimes referred to as diminutive or even "sawed-off" by the late Times Leaders sports writer Bill Van Horne (and worse by others), there was no doubt as to who was in charge, whether it be on the gridiron, in the classroom or in the boardroom. While he was driven to succeed, as a 75% lifetime winning record as a coach exemplifies, that drive never interfered with doing things the right way and with a softness that belied his, at times, combative exterior. He consistently fought for pay raises for teachers, jobs for the community and money to benefit local schools from new programs he had developed. His courage was never more evident than when he championed the consolidation that led to the Union Local School District. Although himself fiercely proud of his roots in Lafferty, he wouldn't let that pride or the pride of others in the heritage and history of their own small communities and schools interfere with the consolidation. In the end he withstood fierce opposition in order to do what was in the best interests of all the kids of all of those communities, and Union Local was born.
Dad was so well respected for his never-ending work that in 1976 he was honored by the Ohio Senate for his service to country and his community. His amazing 70 years in the education field ended just two years ago when he retired, at age 95, from the Belmont County Educational Services Center Board.
Dad had a great love for his family and his community.
Our family has many wonderful personal memories. Memories of Christmases at Grandma's and Grandpa's with all dad's sisters, their husbands and their children there, tales of his exploits as the quarterback of Muskingum College as well as a basketball star there, of card games around the kitchen table where a twitch in Dad's upper lip always gave away a good hand, of trips to Seneca Lake and, most of all, of the love emanating from a marriage lasting over 70 years. We tell stories of going to Ohio State football games, of watching him referee a high school game or hearing tales of him ejecting a young Woody Hayes from one, of watching him at close to 80 years of age jump into a car to go to Cincinnati to see Pete Rose break Ty Cobb's Most Hits in a Lifetime record, trips to the Rose Bowl, Ann Arbor for OSU-Michigan, and Florida & Arizona for OSU Bowl Games, of being taken to state basketball tournaments to see Jerry Lucas play in high school or see Cleveland East Tech win the State Championship, of summers on an ocean beach as Dad attended Naval Reserve training at Norfolk, of Mom and Dad going to a Democrat National Convention for one of FDR's nominations, of their living in New Orleans in the early part of WW II and of reading a tattered newspaper column by the late Bill Van Horne indicating that "Coach Albanese said before the hoops season that it was a rebuilding year and that he hoped to salvage a few victories. Thus far he has salvaged 14 in a row."
He helped shape this community and this community helped shape him.
With the exception of the war, his entire adult life was spent within 50 miles of where we are today. He was a member of many organizations including the Free Masons, the American Legion, the American Red Cross, the Belmont County Children's Services Board, and the VFW, and scores more. But foremost, he was a coach and an educator. He cared about his students and his players and within their interactions, mutual bonds of love and respect were formed, bonds which lasted a lifetime. He took great pride in their successes, as some of them became doctors or dentists, or amassed fortunes or had successful careers in other fields. He equally cared about those who simply worked hard to love and support their families. He welcomed their cards, letters, and visits to our home. He loved to show his antique glass collection. He loved high school reunions, as well as chance meetings, likely to occur almost anywhere in the world.
He loved to talk and reminisce with former students and players. He was the repository of a great store of knowledge about them. Long after the schools they had studied in were torn down and the athletic fields they had played on were overgrown, he could bring those ghosts back to life with stories of exploits, of personalities, of glorious victories and hard fought defeats. Through the decades, he was also there for them in the bad times, as he helped them with advice, encouraged them, or helped carry the coffins of those who died young in war or in the coal mines, or of old age as time passed. While he outlived his generation and many of those in the next, those gone were never far from his thoughts and always in his heart.
As impossible as it sounds, I thought he would live forever.
Although at 97 he was physically bowed by time, he remained strong of spirit, was still a "dapper dresser" and he had an unabated love of life. That love encompassed this entire community, but most importantly it was a love for our mother, the love of his life for over seventy years, and for his three children and two grandchildren. I think now of that moment a few short years ago when that bowed frame found the strength to become ramrod straight as he commissioned his granddaughter an Army officer.
I think also of his courage when, in his last moments of conscious thought in Wheeling Hospital ...with my mother, my sister and I at his side, he rubbed our fingers against his cheek and patted each of our hands to give us comfort. . . as he slipped away.
In a life dominated with a love of people, especially students and athletes, and of sports, I like to think that as the final seconds of the fourth quarter of his long life ticked away, he found himself in a great stadium, one filled with cheering fans, all people he had impacted in some positive way during his long life, and that as time ran out in the Game of Life . . . . he looked up at the scoreboard . . . and saw that he was a Champion.
I love you, rest in peace my Dad, my Hero.
Ernest L. Albanese Jr.
December 9, 2006