by Scott Kindberg
July 15, 2022
‘Ronnie’s Way 5K’ Set For Aug. 6
Ron Graham attended a youth symposium in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s. During his visit, he presented a work-force prep initiative, a concept that would provide qualified high school students the opportunity to serve apprenticeships with companies.
During a portion of the program, he listened as a speaker talked about the importance of saving America’s youth.
The speaker’s story went like this:
A man was walking along a beach when the tide was out. As he walked, he discovered many, many starfish that had been washed up on shore. Realizing they were going to die, the man began throwing as many back into the ocean as he could. As he worked, he was approached by another man.
“Why are you doing it?” the newcomer asked. “You can’t save them all.”
The man picked up another starfish, tossed it into the ocean and turned to his companion and said, “Well, it matters to that one.”
Graham, a Busti resident, shared that story with me more than 25 years ago while we were sitting in the bleachers at Strider Field on Jamestown’s south side. Our conversation that day turned into a feature for this newspaper about his commitment to young people, a seed that was planted when he was in elementary school.
Below is how I opened the piece I wrote in 1996:
When the little kid from Corinth, Mississippi showed up at the Jamestown YMCA for the first time 41 years ago, he had no membership, no money and no adult male in his life.
How’s that for hitting the trifecta?
“I was dirt poor,” Graham said.
But his mom, trying to support a family of three boys, dropped her eldest son off at the Y anyway on her way to work. She didn’t want him on the streets.
An athletic child, even at the tender age of 7, Graham wanted, in the worst way, to play basketball with the other kids. But how can you work on your jump shot when you don’t have enough money to get in the door?
Youth director Spiro Bello noticed. He also cared. So much so that he made Graham an offer. If the youngster would hang up coats for an hour each Saturday morning, Bello would allow him to get in the gym in time to play with the other kids.
This arrangement allowed Graham to work for his membership. What it taught him was responsibility. What it gave him was a role model.
Fatherless kids need that.
“Spiro Bello was my hero,” Graham said. “He was one of the first white men I’d come in contact with. He just loved kids. If he hadn’t been around, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Bello was the first of many men who had an impact on Graham as he grew up. Later, Bobo Hunter, Herb Cunningham, Terry Ransbury, Russ Diethrick, Frank Hyde and George Bataitis filled the void that Graham so desperately needed filled. He listened to them, learned from them and emulated them.
“It seemed like every phase of my life there was a man there,” Graham says now. “They said, ‘I’ll take you to the next step.'”
Graham’s family is now hoping that the community will be there for him next month.
Graham was diagnosed with stage-4 gastroesophageal cancer in May and he has recently started his treatment.
“With the support of his family and close friends, Ronnie is determined to battle through the challenges and life changes that this disease can often bring,” the family posted online. “We are happy to share that Ronnie’s positive impact on so many lives in our community has prompted an outpouring of love from many who have offered to do anything they can to help. For this, he and his family are grateful.”
In response to this outpouring, the family has created and will hold the “Ronnie’s Way 5K,” which will be held Aug. 6 at Jackson-Taylor Park on Eleventh and Washington streets in Jamestown. People may register online at https://www.bikesignup.com/Race/NY/Jamestown/Ronnie.
The 5K run will begin at 10 a.m., followed by “hot-shot” basketball at 11 a.m., a community walk at 11 a.m. and a community lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Live music will be provided by disc jockey Jim Bloomquist, and Steve Davis & Friends from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All proceeds will be used to help defray Graham’s mounting medical expenses.
Graham’s son-in-law, David Reinhardt, called the festivities a “celebration” for all that Graham has done for Jamestown and all of Chautauqua County.
As Graham and I neared the end of our conversation at Strider Field more than a quarter century ago, he offered this:
“I’ve been blessed. This is my own way of giving it back, of serving. There’s something called servant leadership and I aspire to that.”
His family — wife Helen, children Chuck, Tamu, Rashaan, Faith and LeeAnne, grandchildren and in-laws — has always been supportive of that, too.
“It’s been the best working experiment of love in motion,” Graham said that day in 1996. “We’ve always tried to give to each other. They knew community work was important to me and we’ve always supported each other. They’ve permitted me to do this and they know it’s fulfilling for me and hundreds of kids. It’s a labor of love.”