This is a commentary about a modest, unassuming guy who on November 30 turns 80. He's made the little western Pennsylvania town of Butler his lifetime home. The fact that he's 80 absolutely astounds me because he's only five years older than me, and I'm not that old!
As a young boy of say, 10, I always looked up to Ron, who seemed much older to me than the 15 he would have been then. I wouldn't say he was my hero -- that was his dad, my grandfather, Ray -- but he was right up there with the gods.
How many days did I spend keeping score while Ron and his dad, Ray, pitched horseshoes down in the hollow near the creek behind their house? How many days did we spend fishing for anything that would bite in the lakes and streams near Butler? Or hunting groundhogs in the rolling Pennsylvania hills.
After he married Aunt Norie, how many Thanksgivings did we spend upstairs in their house, playing pool while the women cleaned up the kitchen after dinner?
Those were wonderfully simple times, etched in my memory. Ron's laugh, no really a chuckle, is in my brain to this day.
Ron's older sister, Audrey, was my mom. My father was a minister who became a chaplain in the U.S. Army, so we moved around a lot. I've lost count of the schools I went to, a fact among others that caused confusion for me, a feeling of no roots, no constance in my life.
But as a young boy when we went to Butler to stay with my grandparents, Ron was always there. He was an older friend, and I looked up to him. With him and my grandparents, it seemed like an unseen steading hand was there for me. Always a warm smile, always encouraging, always positive.
Now, Ron and I both are in our rust years. I don't get to see him or my other family members in Butler often and that's a shame. But being with them in my formative years, and even later as an adult when I was racing at breakneck speed in my career, was like hitting the pause button, reminding me what is truly important.
Ron and Norie have been blessed with a wonderful family of their own, as have I. My path took me away from Butler many years ago. But Ron Breth, one of the top horseshoe players in Butler County, is still I guy I look up to.
Happy birthday, Ron. I know it's a little bit early, but these words just came to me today, and I didn't want to forget them. I'm almost 75, you know.