“There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time,” begins the 1929 booklet on Trafford, Pennsylvania history, 25th Anniversary and Old Home Week. It was true for the borough of Trafford and equally true for two of its born-and-bred, boyhood friends Sonny Vaccaro and Pat DiCesare. Though Trafford would grow in many ways, it would remain fairly small and inconspicuous. This is where the borough and its two sons would differ.
The borough of Trafford came to be in 1904, named by George Westinghouse whose electric plant became the main source of jobs for the 2,000 or so residents (that number would double through the years as the town grew, but never went much higher than 4,000). At that time, Trafford residents were made up predominantly of blue-collar folk, many of them immigrants, who generally assumed that their lives would follow the path of high school education and steady hometown job.
“I was the youngest boy of ten first generation Italian children who lived in a two-bedroom house in little Trafford, PA. Back then, everyone dreamed of getting a job in a steel mill or at Westinghouse Electric,” recalled Pat DiCesare (pronounced “De-Caesar,” according to my mom) in his autobiography, Hard Days, Hard Nights. Pat was born in 1938 to parents who immigrated from Italy to America in 1920, the same year that my grandfather Tony’s parents did. In fact, reading Pat’s autobiography at times was almost surreal…it was as if I was reading my grandfather’s story. My grandfather Tony, born in 1927, was also the youngest boy of a large, hardworking Italian family who grew up in small town Western Pennsylvania (in his case, the borough-turned-city of Jeannette, PA) surrounded by steel, bricks, coal…materials that built empires, but made your hands dirty.
“I hated lunchtime at school because the other kids brought perfect-looking sandwiches made with store-bought buns…while I brought peppers fried in olive oil and garlic sandwiched between two thick slices of Mum’s homemade bread,” Pat remembered in his autobiography, mimicking my grandfather’s memory of his own childhood embarrassment at the homemade bread and homecured meat sandwiches his mother sent him to school with while all of his classmates brought sandwiches made from Town Talk bread.
Pat toed the line at Westinghouse for a time, but then quit to become a stock boy at a record company, a simple move that would change his life.
Meanwhile, his best friend John Paul Vincent “Sonny” Vaccaro, was living a similar life. Sonny, born in 1939, was the first child of Southern Italian parents and played football in high school. He was charismatic and, like Pat, had big dreams of doing something other than follow in the footsteps of his father who worked at the mill.
My grandfather Tony’s life and the lives of these two men, Pat and Sonny, ran almost parallel up to a point, though they never met. Tony’s daughter, my mom, is a different story. Like Sonny and Pat, she grew up in Trafford, Pennsylvania and has memories of both men. She and my grandma lived next door to the grandparents of Sonny Vaccaro, who would come to visit his family often. Mom has clear memories of him pulling up to the house in his car, mostly because of his trademark crooked parallel parking job: nose of the car at the curb and the back sticking out at an angle. When we watched the 30 for 30 documentary about Sonny (called Sole Man), my mom was thrilled by a present day scene in which Sonny and his wife were driving their car around town. She couldn’t wait to see how he parked.
Sonny coached football at Trafford High School during my mom’s senior year there. She also remembers Pat. Pat’s brother Mike ended up marrying Eleanor Radosh, the younger sister of Betty Radosh who was married to my mom’s cousin Melvin Buchin. Mike and Eleanor lived across the street from my mom when she was in high school and she would often go over to babysit their daughter. Mike was a book salesman so their house was full of books and music, which delighted my mom, who lived for both. She first heard the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album there.
Mom was aware that Pat would go on to become a famous concert promoter of two of her favorite bands, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among other legendary acts, but she did not realize that Sonny Vaccaro would achieve a similar level of fame as a sports marketing executive, an essential component in the relationship between basketball and the athletic footwear industry, and the man who signed Michael Jordan to his first Nike contract…until recently.
So how did these two small town best buddies gain American icon status, each in their own right? “There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time,” i.e.: You’ll have to wait until part 2 to find out…
“Sole Man.” Weinbach, John and Dan Marks, directors. ESPN Film’s 30 for 30, season 2, episode 31, 16 Apr. 2015.
DiCesare, Pat. Hard Days Hard Nights: From the Beatles to the Doors to the Stones… Insider Stories from a Legendary Concert Promoter. Headline Books, 2015
“25th Anniversary and Old Home Week.” Trafford History, Trafford Historical Society, www.traffordhistory.org/lookingback/index.php/resources-link/25years.