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Ralph Romero battling Lou Gehrig's disease one day at a time

Original post made by Jeb Bing, editor of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Jul 2, 2009

Several hundred are expected to play golf next Thursday, July 9 and even more to attend a dinner that night at Castlewood Country Club to honor a top golfer and a well known friend of Pleasanton, Ralph Romero. Billed as the First Annual Ralph Romero ALS Charity, all proceeds will go to the ALS Association to fund research into the crippling, neurodegenerative disease that cut short the life of famed baseball player Lou Gehrig 70 years ago and many other notables since. ALS is now slowly taking Romero's life and he wanted to launch the charity while he still can.

Romero, who with is wife Sherry moved to Pleasanton in 1974, has never been mayor, sat on the City Council or held other city and civic leadership positions. Yet he's known by thousands who have worked with him in the auto parts business, in various charity efforts he's supported and those who helped to develop Pleasanton in the 1970s and 1980s. A close friend of the late George Spiliotopoulos, who owned the Cheese Factory on Main Street, Romero helped organize and then manage GASIT, the George A. Spiliotopoulos Invitational Tournament that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for senior citizens, youths, scholarships and funding emergencies over the past four decades. When Spiliotopoulos was killed in a pedestrian accident on Main Street, Romero moved in to seamlessly carry on his friend's good work. He was not alone with other well known Pleasanton leaders joining in, including Ken Mercer, Brad Hirst, Dee Wilson, Frank Capilla and many others.

The Romeros first lived on Touriga Drive when they moved to Pleasanton and later built the home they still live in on Foothill Oaks Drive. There they have raised their three sons: Paul, Mark and Ryan. A soccer coach, Ralph Romero also has a domestic side, cutting out figures from materials Sherry uses during the holidays for her custom boutiques. As part of the GASIT group of veteran Pleasanton men ("the old men of Pleasanton," Romero says), he joined also joined Spiliotopoulos in encouraging the county to build the public library that now stands at Bernal and Old Bernal avenues and to see the project through top its completion after Spiliotopoulos died. When some in town, including several leading politicians, tried to keep ValleyCare from building its new medical center here, Romero led the effort to make sure it was built. He also helped in the public campaign to defeat an effort to block the rezoning of open space on the north side of Pleasanton to that Hacienda Business Park could be constructed.

Romero, like the other "old men of Pleasanton," held court almost daily at Dean's Café, with some coming at 6:30 a.m., others later and still another shift about noon and taking seats in the large circular booth near Dean's front door. Although he shunned formal politics, Romero had plenty to say about Pleasanton's destiny in the days when many of the neighborhoods were planned. Those were the days when if Romero heard someone he knew was sick or in financial trouble, he'd encourage others to join him in helping out, sometimes with 50 or more showing up at a friend's house to give their support. When Spiliotopoulos was alive, Romero said anyone in the group always carried a pocketful of bills because there would frequently be a plea for $100 to help handle a problem.

An active, sports-loving kind of guy, Romero first felt shoulder weakness and pain while he and Sherry were vacationing in Hawaii. After a series of tests, a neurologist he had been seeing gave him the shocking news that he had Lou Gehrig's disease on Dec. 12, 2007, just a few hours after his retirement party at Monument Parts, where he was an executive. Although he golfed for a while after that, the degeneration has progressed to where Romero has lost the use of both arms and can no longer walk. What he finds sad, too, is that so few people, including his friends, know anything about ALS, which strikes most often those between the ages of 40 and 70. As many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. But because it progresses so rapidly, research that requires long-term testing and test results are difficult. Funding also lags behind many of the more noted diseases, which is why Romero wants to leave his charity as a lasting legacy in the fight to find a cure.

Although Thursday's golf tournament is sold out, some tickets are still available for the dinner by calling the Castlewood Country Club. For those who want to contribute, make checks out to the Ralph Romero ALS Charity and send them to 2810 Foothill Oaks Dr., Pleasanton, CA 94588.


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Readers' Choice Ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "Pleasanton Readers' Choice" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 21st. Stay tuned for the results in the June 23rd issue of the Pleasanton Weekly.