John Grindrod: Older pals like Z, templates for aging gracefully

First Posted: 5/30/2014

There is no mistake about life’s two certainties in that old saying we’ve heard for years and with the tax season just a few months behind us and another a few months in front of us, I think a lot of people see paying our tariffs as the devil with the more attractive horns. But, this isn’t a column about either death or taxes. Rather, it’s one about the blessings of older friends, in my case, one in particular.

And, might I say that it’s a pleasure to write about one of my older pals who is still thriving. While I appreciate the kind words from those who were touched by the columns I have written on the passing of individuals who made so very much of a difference in helping to make the Lima community what it is, men such as Don Koenig and Bill Clark, to be honest, it was never my intention to have my main literary niche become that of the town eulogizer.

Now, given the fact that my pal has been knocking around Lima for somewhere north of 70 years after moving here with his family from Chicago Heights in the 1940s and has made quite a name for himself, many of you I think will know the subject of today’s community profile. My pal John Zerante Sr. is a guy who I think is aging about as gracefully as anyone this side of Dick Clark, who remained as interesting and vibrant a figure into his Times Square-New Year’s Eve hosting duties as he was almost a half century earlier when he was asking teens to grade records on American Bandstand.

John, or, as most know him around town “Z,” is on the doorstep of the octogenarian phase of a life so very well lived and remains a physical presence that certainly suggests the athlete that he was, especially in the year I was born, 1951. With so many of my older friends — those now gone, such as John Mulcahy and John O’Connor, and those still with me, such as Jack Quinn and Z — I know of their athletic primes only through the stories that I’ve heard and what I’ve read in old scrapbooks and library microfilm that I’ve researched in writing some sports-nostalgia pieces for Our Generation’s Magazine.

And, as I read of their youthful exploits, I always feel a bit saddened that I couldn’t have witnessed them when they were at the absolute top of their games. That sense of incompleteness, I suppose, is what draws me so often to Lima’s past as a writer.

Recently, I’ve been going through material on St. Rose High School’s 1951 sports year, unquestionably the school’s greatest, for a series I’ll be including in my Our Generation’s 2015 lineup that I’ll finish for submission as I always do by December of the previous year.

And, in reviewing the St. Rose material, I couldn’t help but notice in all three varsity sports, from spring through fall and onto winter, that name John Zerante kept popping up. He was the No. 2 pitcher to Dick Finn’s No. 1 on an undefeated Class B baseball state-championship team; the starting quarterback on the school’s football team that crafted an 8-0-1 record, the best in school history; and a starting forward and ferocious rebounder on a very good Cardinal basketball team.

And, while he was doing all that, I was lying in a crib in Chicago studying my toes and seeing if I could get an early start on what I would, years later, perfect, sticking my foot in my mouth.

Perhaps the reason for John’s youthfulness lies in the fact that, not only was he active in his St. Rose Cardinal years but has remained active in every decade that has passed since he left the McKibben Street school. The former C & G Distributors driver and salesmen continues to trod the fairways, toe the alleys and try his fishing luck on the banks of the local reservoirs with the same verve as he has done for years. Certainly, much of Z’s youthfulness also comes from his wife Joyce, who’s been with him every step of the way and has co-authored five children — Sharon, Kathi, Laurie, John Jr., and Marcie.

Of course, as I move through my 60s, like a lot of my pals, I see changes that I know are age-related, and while I try not to allow that to consume me, that fact does poke me in the back recesses of my mind enough for me to wonder how I’ll be in another couple of decades should I be so fortunate to be given the gift of time.

While I don’t know how youthful and optimistic I’ll be, I have hope. And a lot of that hope comes from many of my older friends, guys such as John, who maintains a sense of humor and level of activity and who continues to embrace life’s possibilities rather than bemoan the sands that have already filled the bottom of his hourglass. In a nutshell, Z has remained viable, and while that term is more associated with the business world, the fact is that it’s just as important to remain so when it comes to aging.

Those who can somehow accomplish the feat of aging gracefully remind me of a Bob Dylan lyric from his folk song “My Back Pages”: “Ah but I was so much older then/ I’m younger than that now.” And, while no one says this whole getting-older thing is easy, as long as there are those around who are older than we and can provide us with templates as to how to traverse the years gracefully, even the timid among us graying and balding baby boomers can make it.