A Painesville Legend Remembered

Ronald Balogh, 73, died August 14 following a two-month illness. He had been under hospice care near his snowbird home in Estero, Florida. Ron left behind a 50-year legacy of service to his hometown, especially to the Painesville City schools, that earned him the commonly used moniker of “Mr. Painesville.”

Ron was a devoted teacher and administrator at Harvey High School, where he taught instrumental music and led the school’s band, then became a guidance counselor and served as assistant principal for several years before his retirement. Respected and loved by his students, he dealt with them by demanding discipline tempered by kindness and understanding about their needs, which were often extensive. Many of Harvey’s graduates stayed in touch with him throughout his life.

This educator never really left Harvey behind. He quickly became a tireless worker in the alumni association and served many years as its president. Undaunted by the challenge of Harvey’s huge volume of historical data, films, documents and photos, he worked in a room at the new high school – a room officially dedicated to him three years ago through the efforts of his longtime alumna friend, Sharee Crouser. Ron organized the Harvey Alumni Association awards dinners yearly.

Ron’s instinctive talent at fund-raising was one of his greatest contributions to Harvey. Over the years he was so successful at securing funds for student scholarships that tens of thousands of dollars were awarded to deserving graduates. He had a working relationship with The Cleveland Foundation to assure the funds would be secure in perpetuity.

Ron’s organizational skills and tireless work ethic were admired by all who knew him. Although he was often teased about his endless “lists,” they were endemic to his success. One of the most demanding of the fund-raisers was the well-known Riv-Har Duck Race, a collaborative effort between Riverside and Harvey high schools. Ron prepared lengthy data sheets for Duck Race meetings that made new people on the committees wide-eyed in disbelief.

The football rivalry between Harvey and Riverside was called “The Battle of Painesville.” Because a booth at Party in the Park every July was a mainstay of the fund-raising efforts, relationships between the two schools added a light-hearted spirit of cooperation to the rivalry, which seldom got out of control.  Ron, representing Harvey, and Don Pomfrey representing Riverside for many years, worked together on all aspects of the Duck Race. The numbered rubber duckies were launched into the Grand River in a shallow section, and the winners were caught in a net. A celebratory picnic, including the announcement of winners, was always held at Ron’s home. All volunteers for the event were invited.

Tom Trombley, president of the Riverside Alumni Association said, “I had the pleasure of working with Ron on the last two Duck Races. Right from the start, I found him engaging, funny and very committed to the event. We worked well together in a collaborative way. I am very saddened by his passing and by not being able to work on one more Duck Race.”

Ron was the consummate host, and the Duck Race picnic was only one of the events at his home. An excellent cook, over the years he hosted the alumni association often, dinners for Painesville Area Service Society (PASS), and many casual gatherings for friends. His Jack Russell terrier Bella was the “hostess” for events and gave each guest an accepting sniff (or a “not-so-sure about you” nip).

His patio and deck rivaled the beauty of an English garden with the many planters of flowers he cared for every summer. For winter preservation of many plants, he had developed an ingenious watering system in his basement; it had little plastic “hoses” that squirted just the right amount of water into each planter. A grow-light was overhead, and the whole system was on a timer.

PASS is a club that Ron had a part in initiating. Members contribute funds and raise money in other ways for scholarships given to deserving local high school seniors. Because it is an offshoot of Kiwanis Club, he wanted to be sure that money earned stayed local for area students rather than having large portions go to a national level. John Weiss, retired RHS principal and a member of PASS, has initiated the process of having one of the club’s scholarships dedicated to Ron.

Music also was not left behind in Ron’s life when he retired from Harvey. He maintained his expertise on the piano and keyboard as well as with wind instruments. He practiced regularly with friends in The Big Band Sound of Traces, which performed at community events and casually at restaurants, especially Rider’s Inn.

Ron was a devoted Christian, attending his local Methodist Church in Florida and Hope Ridge Church in Concord. He often played the piano in each church.

Eccentric, quirky people often see life in unusual ways and can end up creative and able to come up with ideas and actions somewhat different from the norm. Ron was eccentric, and he knew it. His “garden in the basement” was one proof of his creative mind.

When he retired from Harvey and no longer had to operate under constraints of customary educator attire, his favorite colors came to the forefront: neon yellow, bright orange and eye-popping lime/chartreuse. His “formal” outfit was almost always topped with a red and black polo shirt, the Harvey Red Raider colors. He had an extensive collection of sneakers, which ALWAYS matched the rest of his garb. He wore cargo shorts almost all the time until he left for Florida in November, even though everyone here had switched to cold weather clothing.

One of the many chronicles of Ron’s life involved his beloved dog Bella. He had acquired her when she was about 3, and his repetitive explanation about her was that “she had never before been properly socialized.” The phrase was a euphemism; rumor has it that a more correct description of young Bella was “incorrigible.” JRTs are known to be highly intelligent, probably at the top of the doggie IQ list. They also tend to be stubborn about wanting to dominate their owners (and everyone/anything else they can). Dog training books warn potential JRT adopters that strong but loving discipline is absolutely necessary.

Ron was meant to own a JRT. It seemed he must have had that same ability to project onto Bella the no-nonsense discipline combined with compassion and trust, the sort of skill and mindset he exhibited toward his students. Whatever, Bella was the loving center of his life for 14 years.

A sideline of Bella ownership led Ron to make major modifications to his house, ones that left first-time visitors taken aback at the arrangement. The changes were due to a day early on when Bella bolted through an open door and disappeared down the road. It was many panic-stricken minutes before Ron found her and returned with her unharmed.

That incident was the beginning of his home becoming a doggie Fort Knox. He had two usable front entrances, a regular door and a chain-link fence with a gate. There were two front doors, one at ground level and one at the top of two steps. The routine for a visitor was to ring the doorbell, wait for Ron to open the locked inside door, and then wait for him to re-lock that door. Then he would unlock the outside door to let the visitor in but only as far as the landing. He then re-locked the outside door, and no doubt most visitors put their hands on the next (locked) nob to attempt getting inside. To people who had been there only once or twice before, he would gently chide them with “No, no silly boy,” or No, no silly girl.” Only then would he unlock the inside door to allow entrance.

This scenario must have happened to multiple people before they finally “got it.” Anyone who may have thought it simpler to use the fence gates didn’t understand Ron. They also had the “double-lock” feature with two gates to get through, except they each had padlocks, which involved his searching among his massive key ring for the correct two. No one could argue against this arrangement since Bella never made another escape.

Ron’s kitchen was a domestic wonder. He could put an entire picnic together, and the counter and sink never had a dirty dish and the stainless steel always sparkled. (How did he DO that?)  His spice cabinet was a Martha Stewart phenomenon, except that some of the contents probably went back to his mother and father’s wedding week. One day his housekeeper, who cleaned his cabinets every winter while he was in Florida, put the huge volume of spices back in alphabetical order. He was aghast at that. It only made sense to him that spices were arranged according to frequency of use. Of course, he methodically re-arranged them.

Ron’s extensive collection of indoor plants was another facet about his life. Sharee was “assigned” to water them while he was gone; he left little notes on each plant giving instructions, such as “1/2 C. water 2 X per wk.” Some of the plants even had directions like “middle” or “back.” Again, no argument there – almost all of the plants were alive each spring when he returned.

Our friend was the epitome of the Biblical commandment to honor one’s parents. Doreen and William Balogh received their son’s devotion and care into their later years. His love for his mother was special, and when she was the first to die, Ron was magnanimous toward his father’s second wife, Wilma, and spoke often about what a wonderful woman she was.

Ron’s two sisters, Deb and Marilyn, were at his bedside as his body failed him. Also present was his former student and devoted friend of many years, Jeff Call. Bella was brought in just before her “father” passed, and somehow, after previous hours of remaining largely unresponsive, he told Jeff to “close the door so she can’t get out.” One of Ron’s sisters took Bella with her when she left for home.

When very special people pass on, they leave legends and legacies behind. Ron was one of those people. His plaque with his picture and biography hangs on the wall in Harvey that is dedicated to its distinguished graduates.  His piano is silent in his living room. His myriads of flowers are now tended by landscapers. The parties are over.

And there are the hundreds of rubber duckies, stuffed into bags and stored out of sight at RHS. It is unlikely they will be used again after 17 years of September races. Some of the volunteers at Wyman Park for last year’s race commented that the ducks’ numbers were fading and that they were careworn and leaky. If one didn’t know better, it would almost seem as if the little critters had foreseen the future.

Elaine Crane, owner of Rider’s Inn, had a thought-provoking incident happen to her on August 14 at 5:30 a.m., which was an hour and a half after Ron’s passing away 1,000+ miles south of his lifelong home. She said she was startled awake by something falling on her forehead from a shelf above her bed. It was a CD that had been recorded by the members of Traces during one of their concerts at Rider’s. Coincidence? A sign from above?

As Tom Trombley so well summed up, “I imagine Ron is already working on some heavenly fundraiser and organizing a band of angels.”

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