Soon to be 90 … and still cyclin’
Harry Radebaugh is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. He’s been a busy man all his life, and he ain’t stoppin’ now. He rides a bicycle with other members of the Coastal Cruisers Bicycle Club about 30 miles several times a week. On his 80th birthday he rode a bike 100 miles, and he’s planning to do 90 miles on May 14, when he’ll turn 90. “I figure that on my 100th birthday I’ll only have to do 80 miles,” he says. Heck, for him that’s like takin’ a rest.
Harry grew up in Toledo, Ohio, one of five children who entered into this world by way of Ralph and Irene Radebaugh (pronounced “RAYdabaw,” just so you know). His dad was a veteran of World War I, the so-called “war to end all wars,” which didn’t quite meet that ambitious promise, and he held a Currier & Ives kind of job that has long since passed from the scene: a milkman, delivering dairy goods door-to-door on a horse-drawn buggy. Meanwhile, Mom was a homemaker, which was pretty much the rule for women in the 1930s.
Harry went to high school in Toledo. “I was a lousy student,” he states. “I never did care much for school, and I never studied.” But he was a really good athlete and was ranked first in the annual testing of the school’s 500 kids in track and field events. His forte was baseball, and he had aspirations to play in the major leagues when he graduated from high school. A lefty, he was a strikeout king, with an outstanding fastball and a pretty good curve. He received an offer in 1949 to start with the D league affiliate of the Washington Senators. In those days there were six levels of minor league ball, from D on up through Triple A, and you had to prove yourself in the minors to make it to the Big Time.
But Harry turned down the offer and signed up for a three-year stint with the National Guard instead, which meant once-a-week training sessions and a two-week training camp in the summer. He had time to play baseball with the Morristown (Tenn.) team in the Class D Mountain States league, which later was to stand him in good stead.
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the U.S. found itself, only five years after the end of World War II, embroiled in another war, and Harry’s National Guard unit was activated. They went to training in Camp Polk, Louisiana, and from there his unit was to be deployed to Korea. But Harry got lucky. Somebody found out that he had pitched in the minor leagues, and his Major at Camp Polk decided to keep him there for their baseball team. There he also became friends with fellow team members Don Shula, later the Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins football coach, and Vic Janowicz, later a Hall of Fame running back for the Washington Redskins.
Harry received an honorable discharge in 1952 and tried his hand at baseball with the Rock Hill Chiefs in the Class B Tri-State league. The Chiefs finished last in the league, but Harry was their ace pitcher and finished the season with a 10 – 2 won/lost record. His contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and they sent him to Lubbock, Texas, where his fortunes changed: He lost his fastball and found a wife-to-be, Patsy. The fastball went south when southpaw Harry injured his money arm while doing some warmup pitching at home. It never got back to the point where the major leagues would want him, and Harry took a job in Toledo with Libbey-Owens-Ford Company, makers of flat glass for the automotive and building industries.
“I did a little bit of everything with them,” he recalls. “From cleaning floors to working on the assembly line, loading furnaces, polishing glass and driving a fork-lift truck. I joined the union and stayed with Libbey-Owens for 34 years. I didn’t get rich, but it was a good job, with regular hours and good pay, and I could make a decent living for my family.” He married Patsy in 1955 and they raised three children: daughters Janet (now deceased) and Patti, and son Don, known to all as “Bubba.”
Harry and Patsy got divorced in 1968, and he spent his nonworking hours in the next seven years as a roving motorcyclist on the lookout for a mate. “I got my first motorcycle the day after my divorce,” he says. “She got the house and I got a Honda Gold Wing. The women loved it. Once you get ‘em on it, you can’t get ‘em off,” he jokes. “I rode it every time I got a chance, come hell or high water.” He took trips from Ohio to Florida, “riding straight through,” he says, “over a thousand miles.” He adds, “I’ll tell you something, though. Those seven years were the lousiest years of my life. I’m one of those guys who likes to be married,” to have a companion to care for and to share his life with.
He married again in 1975, and he and his second wife, Doris, (now deceased), found happiness for the next 25 years or so. Harry retired in 1990, and he had another talent besides baseball and cycling that Doris shared with him. Turns out he had an excellent tenor voice and had taken some professional voice lessons. “I should have become a singer,” he laments. “I love opera and operettas, and I like the Broadway show tunes.” Doris happened to excel at the piano, and the two of them toured various nursing homes and assisted living establishments in Ohio as a duo, performing songs from Broadway hits. “We’d talk with some of the folks, and they loved us and we loved them. It was great to be able to put a smile on their faces.”
But this nirvana didn’t last forever. Harry longed to live in Florida, and he had visited his brother “Beaver” in Punta Gorda regularly. He longed to settle fulltime in Southwest Florida, but Doris would have no part of it. Despite their genuine fondness for each other, they eventually decided to divorce. He came here for good in 1998.
“One of the first things I did was join the Coastal Cruisers Bicycle Club,” he says. And there he met his current wife, Sue. “He was in the fast group, and I was in a slower one,” she notes. Harry also enjoys riding with a motorcycle “gang” on occasion, but the bicycle club is something special. “It’s very important to me,” he says, “because of the people in the club, who have become family for me.” Sue shares his interests. They both like tent camping and bicycling. They are trivia buffs – he’s good at opera, show tunes, geography and U.S. presidents, and she handles the rest.
And they still travel prodigiously via motorcycle. “We’ve been to just about every national park,” says Sue, and they’ve journeyed to such far-off spots as Seattle, Vancouver, Lake Louise, Michigan and Minnesota on their Honda. They load it up with two bikes, camping equipment, clothing and food – and they’ve even devised a way to prop up their small sailboat from two rods they’ve had attached on either side of their seats, making their motorcycle a strange sight as they motor down highways and through cities along the way. Some who see them shake their heads in disbelief, but most onlookers smile and cheer them on. Someone photographed them on one trip and they made the newspapers around the country.
So if you happen to see a white Honda on the street, sporting two bikes and a sailboat atop it, you can bet it’s Harry Radebaugh, takin’ Sue on another journey through life with a guy who just never stops.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.