Late Little League umpire, WWII POW honored with Rotary Award

August 16, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

He passed away in January 2009 and a baseball field at Harding Park was dedicated to his memory in 2012. But the accolades continue to come for Tony Vasquez, who was honored with a Paul Harris Fellowship Award at a recent meeting.

Past Rotary President Joe Jauregui sponsored the award for Vasquez, whose World War II injuries and incarceration as a prisoner of war derailed his dreams of becoming a professional ball player.

Named after the founder of Rotary, Jauregui said the Paul Harris Fellowship Award can be given to honor a non-Rotarian. The $1,000 donation benefits the Rotary Foundation and its worldwide humanitarian projects and activities.

A native of Santa Paula and one of 10 siblings, Jauregui said, Vasquez “had a lifelong love of baseball... he played as a child,” despite severe asthma and excelled at the sport. But he was only 20 in the fall of 1942 when his promising semi-pro baseball career was put on hold for Army service in World War II. 

“He boarded the bus in Santa Paula” and embarked on a war adventure that saw him serve with the 30th Division in the European Theater, fighting through France and Germany. In October 1944 Vasquez was captured by German soldiers and sent from prison camp to prison camp, losing 65 pounds to a mere 100 pounds as he was physically and mentally tormented by his captors and fed only one meal a day. “Knowing it was the only way out,” Jauregui said Vasquez escaped in January 1945; and although he successfully eluded the Germans he was shot in the arm, ending any hope of a baseball career.

“In 1956 when Little League started,” Vasquez volunteered, serving more than 50 years primarily as an umpire. “The games were always short of umpires, but they could always call upon Tony, he would always do it,” said Jauregui.

Although always private about his war experiences, Vasquez was a dedicated member of Mercer-Prieto VFW Post #2043 and never missed an event, observance, or taking part in post funeral service for veterans throughout Ventura County.

In 2012 Jauregui said the multi-purpose field at Harding Park, where Vasquez spent decades encouraging and serving youth, was named in his honor. The Paul Harris Fellowship medallion, pin and certificate will be given to Vasquez’s grandchildren.

Rotary Club President Rick Araiza, the city’s fire chief, said he remembered his own encounters with Vasquez in the 1960s as a Little League player. Decade after decade, for almost three generations, “Tony,” said Araiza, “was always instrumental in getting kids to play baseball.”

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