In going through the endless amounts of boxes and photo albums that have come my way through my Aunt and my Grandmother, I am finding that major portion of the collection passed down from my grandmother is devoted to my Uncle Ronnie.
Uncle Ronnie was a Golden Gloves Champion in Vermont, and well known the state over – a sort of quasi celebrity in local Sports circles. My grandmother adored Ronnie. In fact, the whole family adored Ronnie. I have probably a dozen scrapbooks filled to overflowing with every word ever written about him and his boxing career, in every newspaper from the Burlington Free Press to the Lowell Sun to the Plattsburgh Press Republican. I have the 5 Golden Gloves Championship medals he won from 1952 through 1956, every headline making photo of him knocking out another opponent in the ring, and countless programs from his six year long boxing career.
Ronnie was the 9th of my grandparent’s 14 children. He was born in 1935 and by the time he was 16 he was already making a name for himself on the local Boys Club boxing team, which sent it’s best and brightest to the Golden Gloves, which was sponsored by the Burlington Daily News Fund. 1951 was the fourth year for the Golden Gloves bouts in Vermont, and the sport was new, exciting and drew a lot of attention from the local populace and the local newspaper. And my Uncle Ronnie was it’s star athlete. Local family history has it that Uncle Ronnie forged my grandmother’s name on his first application to fight. You had to be 13 in order to get in the ring at teh Boy’s Club and since he was not quite yet 13, he put the application up against the window over Grandma’s signature and copied the name onto the application.
Ronnie fought in the 135 pound division, and lost a match only one time during his Golden Gloves career, the final Championship match of his rookie year, to an opponent he wrested the championship from the following year. In his debut Golden Gloves match in 1951, the referee was forced to stop the fight in the second round as Uncle Ronnie TKO’d his opponent, Dan Ryan, who, according to the newspaper article describing the match, was “bleeding profusely from the nose.”
As the season progressed, Uncle Ronnie, after TKO’ing one opponent after another, was declared the “surprise package” of the Burlington Boy’s Club team, and by the time the finals came around, he was the odds on favorite to win his division, which he did, which meant a trip to Lowell, Massachusetts for the team and the semi final matches in the New England Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, where he again won his division and the first of his 5 Golden Gloves Champion medals.
The next five years Uncle Ronnie dominated the sport and the newspaper headlines when it came to Golden Gloves reporting. By now he was the odds on favorite in the ring, and judging by the amount of coverage the newspaper gave him – both in and out of the ring, a favorite of reporters, as well, probably helped in no small part by his strikingly handsome looks and his charming and affable manner. More than one article of the time, ostensibly covering his boxing matches and career, used the words “ladies favorite”, “heartbreaker” and
“handsome and charming” in describing him.
But outside the ring, he was breaking no hearts and was seemingly devoted to his longtime girlfriend Alice Hall. Uncle Ronnie and Alice had been an item since they were both 15. Most pictures I have of Uncle Ronnie outside of the ring include her. They were neighbors, and classmates, and spent most of their time together, mostly down by the creek that ran behind their houses. Everyone assumed that they would someday be married and have a large family that mirrored the ones they were both raised in.
In 1956, after spending 5 years as the Golden Gloves champion in the 135 pound weight division in Vermont, Uncle Ronnie was finally given the chance he so long dreamed of – he was approached by a professional manager, John DeJohn of Syracuse New York, who also represented the World Welterweight Champion of the time, Carmen Basilio. DeJohn lined up a professional debut fight for Uncle Ronnie, in Rochester New York, and began training him for his first
pro bout. It was a promising debut fight, Uncle Ronnie scored a knockout in the first round.
Uncle Ronnie came home after his debut pro bout to train for the next fight, scheduled to be held in New York City, where he had previously fought in the Golden Glove finals, in two weeks time. But unfortunately, that fight was never to take place.
On December 16, 1956, Stanley Henry, of Milton Vermont was working near the old Williston sandpit when he came across a car with two young people inside. As he got closer to the vehicle, parked in what was considered a local “lover’s lane spot”, he noticed that the couple seemed to be quite still. As he moved even closer, he suspected that the young couple were dead. He quickly summoned the state police, who verified that the couple were indeed, deceased, and they identified the bodies as those of Ronnie Begins and Thelma McSweeny Tomsic.
An initial investigation opined that the couple probably were, indeed, enjoying a surreptitious tryst in the popular area, since Uncle Ronnie, who was just 21 years old, was by this time engaged to his longtime girlfriend Alice Hall, and the young woman with him at the time of his death, although only 17, was married herself and had an infant son. To ward off the cold December air, they left the car running and the windows rolled up tightly, and were quickly overcome by the noxious fumes that built up inside the car.
The whole state of Vermont was stunned by the tragic deaths. After the announcement the entire sports section of the Burlington Free Press was devoted to the life and career of Uncle Ronnie, and included full page pictures, retrospectives of his five year Champion Career, and headlines that trumpeted the fact that in his entire Golden Gloves career he lost only one bout and was never knocked off of his feet.
Uncle Ronnie’s funeral was of a kind rarely seen in Vermont – the Immaculate Conception Church in Williston was overflowing and hundreds of people had to wait in the parking lot during the service, as the Church could not hold all the mourners. The funeral home saw the same outpouring, and extended the visiting hours to include the next day to accommodate all the people who were not able to be admitted the first day.
In January, as the Golden Gloves season again got underway, William Loeb, publisher of The News and director of the Burlington Daily News Fund, which sponsored the Golden Gloves in Vermont, announced the creation of a special Memorial Trophy that would be given each year to the outstanding boxer of the season, The Ronnie Begins Memorial Trophy.
Although my Uncle Ronnie died long before I was even born, I do feel I know him. The family still adores this young man who filled his life with triumphs and joys, laughter and such promise. And if you mention his name in Vermont, there are still people who will remember his glory days as the most promising young boxer ever to come out of the Green Mountains, the young, handsome heartbreaker who entered the amateur spectacle six times at Memorial Auditorium and in front of a capacity crowd emerged as champion five.