Tom Ralston ’80 Moves On After Boston Marathon Experience
Tom Ralston ’80 moved to Boston shortly after graduating from Wilkes. It’s a city he’s grown to love. “Everything about Boston is historical, in one way or another – and I love history,” says Ralston, who is president of the Wilkes University Alumni Association and works as a fundraiser for Bentley University.
Ralston’s personal history merged with his adopted city’s when he was an eyewitness and victim at the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombing. Taking part in the merrymaking at the marathon has long been a tradition for Ralston. “I think I’ve only missed getting to the marathon twice in the 33 years that I’ve lived there,” says Ralston. This year’s event found him strolling by himself on Boylston Street among celebrants near the finish line; his usual companions were traveling that day.
“I was enjoying the whole atmosphere when I heard the first explosion to my left, about a block and a half away,” he recalls. Thinking that perhaps the large jumbotron televising the race had exploded, he moved in that direction.
Ten to 12 seconds later, the second bomb exploded. “I couldn’t have been more than 12 to 15 feet from it,” Ralston says. The impact knocked him to the ground. “Five, six, maybe seven seconds later, I realized that I was on the ground and I was bleeding pretty profusely.” He clambered to his feet and began walking from the scene, knowing, even in his confusion, that moving away from what was obviously an explosion was a good idea. Two bystanders who were not injured came to his aid. One, a Marine trained in first aid on the battlefield, applied pressure to stop the heavy bleeding on his arm. He could not hear anything that the two said to him because the blast had ruptured his eardrums.
At the hospital, doctors removed shrapnel from his arm. FBI agents and Boston polic detectives questioned him. It was only after he returned home that he realized the black specks on his jeans were small holes burned by bomb debris. He discovered that his leg was burned and had bled.
Although his hearing is still impaired in one ear, Ralston says he’s “healing nicely” from his other injuries. The emotional fallout continues and he still has some flashbacks. He’s been helped attending events sponsored by the city of Boston, where he’s traded stories with others who were at the scene. “I was talking one day to two guys and realized that they were standing within a couple of feet of where I was. Each of them had a leg amputated and I knew God was with me that day.”
Annual Baseball Trip A Home Run for Grissom Hall Alumni
For some members of the classes of 1970 and 1971, baseball has become more than America’s pastime. It’s a way to maintain their Wilkes friendships.
Bart Hauser ’70, John Squeri ’70, Jack Mulligan ’70, Ken Ganser ’70, Len Surdi ’70, Jim Darlington ’70, Bob Tarone ’71 and David Silberman ’70, residents of the Grissom Hall section of Pickering Hall, get together once a year to see a major league baseball game. The group has visited 13 cities with hopes of visiting all 30 major league baseball teams during their lifetimes.
Having kept in touch over the years, the idea surfaced in the mid-90s when a few of them decided to go to Chicago and catch a Cubs game. A trip to see the Baltimore Orioles followed the next year.
However, in 2000, the group came back to Wilkes for their 30th class reunion. That same year, some of them went to a Boston Red Sox game and they decided to make it a yearly tradition to visit a major league baseball stadium together.
The group has visited St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston and a minor league game in Memphis. This year, the men went to Toronto to see the Toronto Blue Jays and next year they plan to visit New York to see the new Yankee/Mets Stadium.
The men typically decide where to go a year or six months in advance. It then falls on one person to research getting tickets. Another looks up hotel accommodations and other activities in the city they visit.
“It’s just a group decision that we sit around and talk and usually one guy says ‘well let’s go to this place’ and we basically all agree to it,” Silberman says, adding that the desire to get together is as important as location. Planning the trip also involves working around each person’s schedule and travel; some years one or two members can’t make the trip. Because most of them live in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, they usually travel together, with Silberman flying in from Memphis, Tenn., and Surdi flying coming from Bellingham, Wash.
In addition to visiting baseball stadiums, the group has also visited Mount Rushmore; the ‘Field of Dreams’ movie site in Dyersville, Iowa; Graceland and
the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis; and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
One of Squeri’s favorite parks was Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.
“St. Louis, the old St. Louis park was great. We were there the last year it was up,” he said. The park has since been torn down.
Silberman said PNC Park in Pittsburgh is one of his favorites because of its location.
“The setting of the baseball park there is so picturesque, it overlooks (the) downtown area,” he said. Squeri and Silberman agree that these trips are something each of them look forward to and a chance for them to get together.
“The baseball theme is what has gotten us to stay together and to meet and just become Wilkes College kids every year,” Silberman says.
MARTIN STRAYER ’93: HOUNDS AND CHICKS PLAY WELL TOGETHER
Martin Strayer ’93 says that music has always played a significant role in his life, even though he came to Wilkes to join the wrestling team. While pursuing his undergraduate international business degree, Strayer formed a band known as Simple Rhyme. They became well known along the east coast after winning the Battle of the Bands contest at Wilkes in 1991, soon after the Arnaud C. Marts Sports and Conference Center opened.
He remembers quite well his first-day orientation in fall 1988, especially the encouraging remarks made by Dean Jane Lampe-Groh, which promised new students that the friends they made during their time at Wilkes would become their best friends throughout life. “What Dean Lampe-Groh said is true,” he says. “My Wilkes experience helped form life-long friends, including the guys that became part of the band.”
After graduating, he segued into sound engineering, working for the concert audio company Clair Brothers, where he provided audio and sound mixes for large concert venues around the world. But he missed playing with a band on stage.
His biggest musical influences have been Mozart, The Beatles, Eddie Van Halen, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, but it was meeting the Dixie Chicks in 2006 that got him back on stage. “I was brought in to help with their sound engineering,” he recalls. “They were in rehearsals when I flew to Austin to meet the crew.”
The rest, he says, is history. “I started writing songs under the radar. The idea to start a new band came to mind. My time at Wilkes helped me become a smart business man, right down to finding a band name.”
The name Court Yard Hounds evolved from a novel mentioned in David Benioff’s book City of Thieves. `We brainstormed about stuff we had read,” Strayer says. “It came down to a book within a book about a character who never gives up on his dreams.”
The group released their self-titled debut album in 2010, securing a spot in the Top 10 on the Billboard charts. Strayer continued to write songs, along with Martie Maguire, who along with her sister, Emily Robison, also are two thirds of the group known as the Dixie Chicks. Lead vocalist Natalie Maines went on to record a solo album, which was released earlier this year.
On July 16, Court Yard Hounds released their second album on Columbia Records. “Amelita” is the title track, about a young girl from Mexico who needs direction in her life. The album features a dozen tracks, 10 of which Strayer co-wrote.
What’s next for the musician? “We are booked to appear on Letterman, “The View” and selected festival dates,” he says. Strayer is happy to be right back where he belongs: on stage, playing his guitar.
By Bill Schneider MA ’13