Ralph DeMarco was a pianist, a baseball player, a World War II combat veteran, a salesman, a family man, a gardener and, for more than 70 years, one of the happiest guys in Santa Rosa.
The 1944 graduate of Santa Rosa High School was fighting for his life in a hospital bed last weekend when his lifelong sweetheart, Joanne DeMarco, placed her cheek against his.
“I must have kissed him 100 times,” she said. “I said, ‘Take God’s hand, honey, you’ve fought long enough.’ ”
Soon, her husband of 65 years let go. A celebration of his full and jubilant life will be Friday afternoon at Santa Rosa Memorial Park.
Eighty-eight years old when he died Sunday, Ralph Joseph DeMarco was born in New York City and all through his childhood on Staten Island was enthralled with music and baseball. He studied piano at Carnegie Hall for two years before applying himself more single-mindedly to fielding and hitting balls.
DeMarco was 15 when his family moved west to Sonoma County. He earned MVP honors on the varsity baseball team at Santa Rosa High.
Soon after graduation, he joined the Army and the fight in the Pacific. Upon his honorable discharge after the war, he returned to Santa Rosa, took what work he could find and resumed playing baseball, semi-pro and professional.
He was a nimble infielder for the Santa Rosa Rosebuds, then a farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But baseball lost its pull on him as he fell deeper in love with the former Joanne Maddox.
“He just caught me and he wouldn’t let me go,” she said. “And I thank God for that.”
They married in Santa Rosa late in 1948. DeMarco later told local history author Lee Torliatt, “I played baseball because I loved the game, but after I got married I decided I loved my wife and kid more, and we needed to be together on weekends.”