Events of Veterans Day Launched; Capt. Fagone Is Honored
Sebastiano J. Fagone, retired U.S. Army captain, this morning was presented a letter and certificate of commendation from the adjutant general, Oregon National Guard.Write-In
Mayor James Dunlevy made the presentation in the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall following a Veterans Day breakfast. With Capt. Fagone when the presentation was made were Ed Smith, commander of VFW Crater Lake Post 1833, and James A. Hurson, director of the Veterans Administration Domiciliary, White City.
The certificate noted that Capt. Fagone had contributed "outstanding service to the National Guard" from June 26, 1947 to March 1959.
Long Military Career
Capt. Fagone retired recently after 22 years in the army. He had been promoted to captain in the National Guard June 2, 1955, and he was president of both the old and new armory boards.
He was one of the few original enlisted men in the local National Guard unit after World War II. Fagone, then technical sergeant, and Charles Wiley, then staff sergeant, served nine months without pay until 15 men could be induced to form a unit with them.
Capt. Fagone's service included five years in the regular army, 12 years in the National Guard and five years in the active Army Reserve. He served in the European theatre in World War II.
Approximately 150 people attended the VFW breakfast this morning as the first event of the annual Veterans Day celebration.
Abridged, Medford Mail Tribune, November 11, 1964, page 1
To the Editor: In my nine years at the Medford Post Office I have observed Ben Fagone as a worker, friend and above all, a citizen. I have never seen a man more concerned for youngsters and adults and his community as Ben Fagone.
Many times I have seen him asked as a school board member about different problems in our schools. He always gives an honest answer, or sees to it that he gets the answer for you.
He has always been concerned about the lack of park development and facilities for the citizens of Medford.
He has touched the lives of so many kids and adults as a boxing commissioner, a ball player, umpire, league president, P.T.A. president (Lincoln School), captain in the National Guard, park commissioner for two terms, state athletic commission and state vice president of softball.
He has been roaming the streets of Medford for 32 years, and no one knows the problems of the community better. He also has the rare ability of bringing them to the attention of the city fathers (council).
As a six-time president of the carriers N.A.L.C. Association he is the most forceful leader in the Association.
He is a friend indeed to anyone who wants to be his friend. He can literally tear you to pieces, and when he's through he will say, "Come on, let's have a cup of coffee."
He has foresight, integrity and honesty, and above all, be it a kid, councilman, a senator, or the governor of Oregon, he'll tell it to their face in the only way he knows how, straight from the shoulder.
Ben Fagone loves Medford and his community. So, let's put him where he can do the most good. If you don't prefer Mr. Truscott or Mr. B. Johnson, then write in Ben Fagone for mayor.
I'm merely voicing my sentiments, and if you agree, as one citizen said at the Oct. 3 council meeting, "Medford should thank God for Ben Fagone; in these trying times he at least can make us laugh," then join me and write him in for mayor of Medford.
Douglas B. LarsonMedford Mail Tribune, October 9, 1974, page 4
1213 W. 11th
Fagone Says He'll Serve As Mayor 'If Enough People Want Me'
S. J. (Ben) Fagone, 54, of 822 Sherman St., is not a declared candidate for the office of Mayor of Medford, but says "I'll serve in that office if enough people want me to."Ben Fagone, City Leader, Dies at 66
His comments were made in reference to a recently published Letter to the Editor in the Medford Mail Tribune promoting a write-in campaign for Fagone for Mayor.
The letter, signed by Douglas Larson, a co-worker of Fagone's, suggests if persons don't prefer to vote for either of the two candidates, Dean R. Truscott or Robert F. Johnson, then "write in Ben Fagone for Mayor."
Fagone is a federal employee of the United States Postal Service, a position he has held since 1950. He is eligible for retirement in January of 1976.
As a federal employee, he is restricted from participating in partisan political activities. City offices, however, are non-partisan, and employees of the federal government may see, accept and hold non-partisan local and state office subject to the provisions of their code of ethical conduct.
Fagone has discussed the write-in campaign with his supervisor, Postmaster Al Bradford, and has received Bradford's clearance concerning the matter. He received similar clearance when he sought and was elected to a position on the Medford School District 549C board. He still holds that position.
He will not have a formal campaign organization, without a chairman or treasurer. Since Fagone's name does not appear on the printed Votamatic ballot, he will rely on persons taking the time to write in his name on the envelope in which they will receive their ballots Nov. 5.
He cautions "I'm a working man. My job and family come first, and then the City of Medford."
Fagone recalls Medford's mayors Diamond Flynn, Earl Miller, John Snider, Jimmy Dunlevy, William A. Singler and D. Lorin Jacobs, noting "not one of them on that list were working men. They all were businessmen or they were paid for the time they spent at city hall. I am a working man and can't interrupt my eight-hour-a-day job. That's No. 1 for me."
His code of ethical conduct indicates that duties of the office, if he is elected, cannot result in a conflict with his postal service employment. Nor can his job as mayor interfere with the performance of his duties or the duties of other postal service employees.
Fagone was born in New York City, the son of an Italian immigrant family who came to the United States in 1918 from Sicily, Italy. He came to Medford in 1942.
He sees the office of mayor as a "position of prestige. Any program I want has to come through the city council. I would like to solidify the council into working for the benefit of the whole community. By doing that then each ward will be taken care of."
Fagone said the city council, for the last six years, has not been working together. "They have been worrying about their own personal problems and problems in their own wards. That is fine if it is done in the proper manner," he says, indicating the proper approach to it is through "teamwork, a community effort. The city must progress in an orderly manner to get goals accomplished."
He wants the public to become more familiar with what kinds of services are offered at city hall. "They should know where to go with their problems. If someone doesn't get satisfaction from city hall, then they should go to their councilman. If satisfaction still hasn't been received, go to the city manager, and last, the full city council."
Fagone says he doesn't like to see a minority of people coming to the city council to "speak for the majority. The aggressive minority is overpowering the silent majority, and the whole city loses in those kinds of deals."
Medford Mail Tribune, October 18, 1974, page 1
The ballot will have two candidates for Mayor, Robert F. Johnson and Dean R. Truscott. Johnson is a member of the planning commission. Truscott is a former councilman. We think either would be qualified; we also think that, of the two, Truscott has the edge.
But there is, in fact, a third candidate whose name will NOT be on the ballot. This is an almost insuperable handicap, for most people will not take the time and effort to write in a name. In this case we think they should, for the man in question has much to offer.
The list of Ben Fagone's activities since he moved to Medford 27 years ago is literally too long to list here. But let's start with World War II, in which he won the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Infantry Combat Badge, Bronze Star, Defense Medal, three Battle Stars, ETO medal, and a few others--including the Good Conduct Medal, which anyone who kept his nose clean received.
He came to Medford in 1942, on an army assignment. After the war he returned and immediately got the job of postwar reactivation of the National Guard, in which he was active until 1969, retiring as a captain.
He has been active in dozens of activities, ranging from reorganization of Legion Baseball to organizing a boxing school, the Pal Club, the Armory Board, and so on.
In 1954, he was elected president of the Lincoln School Parent-Teacher Association--the first man to head a PTA in Oregon, thus cracking a long-standing sexist barrier.
From 1963 on he has been active with the Parks and Recreation Commission, either as a member or as an advocate of more and better parks and park facilities.
Six times he has been elected president of the Medford Postal Carrier Association. In 1972 he was elected to the Medford School Board and has continued his campaign to have the schools and parks department programs coordinated.
A lot of people get mad at Benny Fagone, but they never stay mad. It's impossible. That impish grin of his will wipe out hours of acrimonious argument in a flash.
Benny sometimes plays the clown, but that's only the result of his high good humor and pixie sense of the ridiculous. A sense of humor is not a bad thing to pack around these days.
In short--and much more could be said--Medford has an opportunity to elect a unique individual to its highest office. If he's elected, don't expect a stuffed shirt, or long-winded speeches, or the "on-the-one-hand-this and on-the-other-hand-that" kind of thing.
Sebastiano J. Fagone is honest, direct, down-to-earth, pithy and gutsy. Life with him as mayor might not be easy on everybody, but it sure would be fun.
And we think he'd make a get-it-done sort of mayor. Write him in!
Eric W. Allen, "Four for Council--and Benny," Medford Mail Tribune, October 27, 1974, page 4
Fagone was born in New York City to an Italian immigrant family who came to America from Sicily, Italy, in 1918.
He couldn't speak English until he enrolled in school, and lived in the ghetto, immigrant section of New York.
"When people ask me how I know what kids and adults want, I tell them I've been there. We had no parks, no supervision, no nothing."
"Write-In Candidate," Medford Mail Tribune, October 29, 1974, page C10
November 1, 1974 Medford Mail Tribune
Write-Ins Elect Fagone Mayor
By Roberta Reneau
Mail Tribune Staff Writer
For what is thought to be the first time in the history of the city, Medford residents have elected a write-in candidate to serve as their mayor for the 1975-77 term.
S. J. (Ben) Fagone, 54, received 3,779 votes, according to officials of the Jackson County Elections Department. The unofficial result of the write-in campaign was released shortly before 5 p.m. yesterday.
Fagone defeated Robert F. Johnson and Dean R. Truscott for the position. Johnson had 3,051 votes, and Truscott got 2,414, according to the final computer returns released Wednesday.
"It's a home run," Fagone said today of his victory. He had cautioned Wednesday when the final printout was released that "the ball game isn't over. The game is tied in the bottom of the seventh. The bases are loaded and there are two men out. The call is three balls and two strikes."
He said this morning that his election isn't going to change a thing. "There's still going to be a softball league." Fagone has been active in the Jackson County Softball Association since coming to Medford in the 1940s, and has served as association president all but two years since 1964.
Sebastiano Giuseppe ("I'm Benny, and nothing has changed that") Fagone said he wasn't really surprised with the way the vote turned out. He would, however, like to know how many people really did vote for him, but did it incorrectly on the computer card and thus their votes weren't counted.
"Some people I know did it wrong, and as a result their vote was thrown out. They lost their most prized possession, their vote, and I feel badly about that."
Talking about the responsibilities he assumes in January, Fagone said, "Let's be honest about it. What can the mayor co? The city council members are the ones who have the job to do, but if they don't do it, then I'll have something to say.
"The number one priority for Medford is its health and welfare. If we have that, then everything else is going to fall into place; everything will move in the right direction."
Fagone said he is relying on his military background to give him the guidance as mayor for the community of about 33,000 population. "I want some priorities set. We have to have the money to do it, and we have to have to have a job to do. Let's determine the objective, how it is going to get done, what our manpower is, and then what our 'firepower' (money) is. After we get there, then let's regroup and attack again."
Concerning the city's administrative staff, Fagone said calling them "public servants bugs me. The departments at city hall are there to serve the people, but those guys aren't to be considered servants or second-class citizens because they work for the city."
"Let's do things for each other," he said, noting that public employees deserve respect like anyone else. "Respect is a two-way street. If you want it, you have to give it."
Fagone said he hopes not to see a "ward versus ward" situation in city government, and urges that "with priorities, the needs of the community must come first."
Better cooperation between governmental agencies in the surrounding cities is also another of Fagone's desires, particularly with city and county officials. "I don't foresee problems as far as communication is concerned."
"Absolutely, yes," is his response to whether or not he will retain his position on the District 549C school board. Fagone says he will continue to serve in that position "unless there is a conflict according to the law." As for him having a conflict of interest, Fagone said he would leave the meeting when those situations arise.
"Education of the children is uppermost in my mind. If they are educated, then the future of the community and the country is secure."
He points to his write-in campaign to express the importance of education, noting that "some people didn't know how to write in Benny Fagone. There wasn't enough time for education."
The mail-carrying, ball-playing son of an Italian immigrant family that came to the United States from Sicily, Italy in 1918 recalls that "I never graduated from high school. I left school when I was 16 to work because my father couldn't support us on his $50 monthly income. I got my high school diploma through the GED (General Education Development) tests to get my commission in the Army. That was the most important thing I could do," Fagone said.
"I can be the catalyst to agreements between the city and the school district concerning joint use of facilities and programs, and cooperation," he says.
"Youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow," Fagone quotes the late Charles Champlin, chief of police in Medford, to emphasize the importance he places on education. "Champlin always said that, and I really believe it."
Fagone came to Medford with the U.S. Army in 1942. "Medford and I have a beautiful thing going for us," he says, but "I'm also a working man, and I can't let the job of mayor interfere with my job. My job and family come first, and then the City of Medford."
Fagone and his wife, Helen, live at 822 Sherman St. "I just hope people don't forget that I have a wife," he says of Helen, born and raised in Medford.
It was a combination of ball playing and money that led to their marriage. Fagone and Helen Smedley walked to Miles Field one afternoon to watch a ball game, and Fagone had to borrow $2 from her for the admission price. After the game she asked him when he was going to pay her back, and Fagone's response was "When we get married, I'll buy the license, and then we'll be even."
The couple's three married children, two girls and a boy, are Sam Fagone, Central Point; Mrs. Robert (Antoinietta or Tony) Dawson, Jacksonville; and Mrs. Gary (Patricia or Patty) Colfax, Coquille.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 8, 1974, page 1
November 8, 1974 Medford Mail Tribune
A Noisy, Busy Life--And Helen Fagone Likes It
By EDNA MARTIN
Mail Tribune Lifestyles Editor
She calls him "a very special fellow"; he calls her "Queenie." And they marked their wedding anniversary Tuesday.
It should have been a gala celebration--a 31st anniversary and an election won the week before against almost overwhelming odds.
But Benny Fagone, Medford's mayor-elect, and his wife, Helen, were too busy to offer toasts to each other. They were, as usual, getting ready to attend a community service meeting. Benny, who is a board member of School District 549C, was on his way to Portland to attend the Oregon School Board Association sessions, and Helen went along to visit with friends.
The romance of Helen and Benny Fagone began in 1942 with what was almost a Brooklyn rhubarb--and it hasn't been exactly a quiet, uneventful life ever since.
"It's noisy, it's busy, it's filled with people, and it's very seldom dull," Helen Fagone said the past week in an interview. She admitted to being a bit more shy and reserved than her husband, adding: "I don't think there are many houses built to stand two like Benny."
The 31 years have been filled with bringing up a family, establishing a home, building a circle of wonderful friends, and unselfishly giving of their time to the town they both love--in service to the schools, city government, softball league and handicapped and retarded children.
"I'm glad Benny won the election. I think it's marvelous," Helen said. "He will make a good mayor--he's never started anything in which he didn't do a good job. He cares so much about the town--not just youngsters, but everybody."
Helen, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Earl Smedley, was born in Medford, attended Lincoln School and Medford High School. But Benny came from a very different background. The son of an Italian immigrant family which came to America in 1918, he was born in New York and grew up in the big city.
The war brought them together--and it was probably one of Medford's more explosive incidents in June 1942. Helen, home from her third year at University of Oregon where she was majoring in physical education, was working in the Evergreen Cafe (on Bartlett Street where the telephone company now is located). Benny, with the 44th Division, Company K, U.S. Army, had been sent to Medford for purposes of security and to assist in evacuation of the Japanese.
He'd been at the Medford Armory one week when he stopped at the cafe and ordered pineapple cheese pie--New York City's favorite--and Helen said she'd never even heard of the stuff. That was enough to start it. Benny proceeded to read her out "for standing up to his corporal" for a date which she hadn't made. He stormed out, leaving Helen in tears.
The next day he was back and told her:
"I'm Sebastiano Giuseppe Fagone--and I'm sorry."
Benny says she fell in love with his name--Helen says she fell in love with Benny.
He left in a couple of months for guard duty along the coast, but the courtship continued by correspondence. In spite of warnings from friends and family that "Italians eat snails and beat their wives once a day," Helen said yes to Benny's proposal.
Then he left her waiting on the railroad depot platform in Medford. He had been put on a wrong train and ended up in Seattle and had to take the bus to Medford. He had a three-day pass and they were married in a civil ceremony in Medford City Hall. They lived in Tacoma, Wash. a short time while Benny was at Ft. Lewis, then she came back to Medford when he went overseas.
Their first child, Sam, was born, fittingly enough, on Christmas Day--"a little bambino," Helen said. "And the day Benny got the news, he was buried in a foxhole in Germany and they didn't think he'd make it--but he did."
The war was finally over and the couple chose Medford for their home. "I still say that's the best thing I ever did for my hometown," Helen said. "After all, he could have gone back to New York city and married a pretty Italian girl."
They settled in the Pine Street neighborhood where Helen had grown up. both worked at the Groceteria, then Benny was at Camp White until 1950, when he went to work for the post office.
The years brought two more children: Patricia (Mrs. Gary Colfax, now of Coquille) and Antoinetta (Mrs. Robert Dawson of Jacksonville). Sam and his wife live in Central Point. There are six grandchildren.
Helen served two years as president of the Women's Auxiliary of the Letter Carriers Association, and both she and Ben served terms as president of Lincoln Elementary School Parent Teacher Association. Helen was Mother of the Year for Medford in 1960 (she can't remember the details of the contest, but is sure her three children rounded up the votes).
Helen Fagone is a regular blood donor for [the] Jackson Count Red Cross chapter and hopes to contribute in December the pint that will bring her total to eight gallons. She's on the Lucky Strike Bowling League team. She knits 60 to 80 personalized Christmas socks a year in some 13 patterns.
But Helen's first interest is retarded and handicapped children. She taught at the School of Hope until Rogue Valley Opportunity Center was organized. She started the program for retarded and handicapped children for the recreation department for the city of Medford in 1967 and continues to carry on the seven-week session of games, bowling and swimming each summer at Hawthorne Park.
When Mayor-elect Fagone suggested the other day she might have to give this up because of possible conflict of interest, she bolted from her chair and, with tears in her eyes, said: "Well, you'll either have to resign as mayor--or I'll do it for nothing!"
The Fagone name is practically synonymous with softball in this area--in fact, the city's official softball complex at Jackson Park is named for Benny. He's been president of the Jackson County Softball Association for all but two years since 1964, so it's natural that Helen became involved.
"It was either join him or never see him," she said. "I went to all the games and kept score for my own satisfaction; one night they got in a bind and asked me to help. And now here I am--the JCSA official scorekeeper, and I've also been treasurer for the past three years."
Helen Fagone broke another barrier--she was the only woman ever selected to be the official scorekeeper and statistician for the Men's Fast Pitch Northwest Regional Softball Tournament, in 1972.
It hasn't been without its exciting moments. One time, during the Big Rogue invitational tournament, one of the players disputed Helen's statistics, maintaining he had a double and she scored him a single. He called her "a stupid Wop."
Benny grinned as he recalled the incident: "She came charging out of the scorebox shouting, 'You got a single and I'm not a Wop.' All the players piled on the guy. He apologized and settled for a single. And Helen didn't budge an inch."
All these activities don't keep the Fagones from fun times with their friends. The welcome mat is always out--both at 822 Sherman Street, Medford, and at the cabin which the family built 17 years ago at Diamond Lake, where a weekend can bring 16 to 20 overnight guests. Helen will cook an Italian dinner at the drop of a ladle, Benny says, adding that he taught her--but she confides it was his sister.
Through all the hectic hubbub, Helen Fagone manages to maintain her own kind of inner peace. But on the anniversary date she did say:
"SOME day, I'm going to get the gold medal for all this!"
Medford Mail Tribune, November 17, 1974
Benny Is Just Being BennyFaces Recall Election
Mayor Fagone is running into a lot of criticism these days. It comes about because he is just acting like himself.
Last Nov. 10, after the election in which he was put into office by write-in votes, we wrote here:
"In supporting his informal candidacy, we forecast that if elected, his tenure might not be easy, but that it would be fun. That it will be."
And that it is. Benny is running true to form. He calls the shots exactly as he sees them. He pulls no punches. And if his diction and mannerisms may be a bit less genteel than the most fastidious would prefer, they are Benny's, always have been, and probably always will be.
For our part, we've always thought that doughty little "Give-'em-hell-Harry" Truman is a far more admirable kind of character than those mealy-mouthed politicians who try to be all things to all people.
Benny Fagone is no Harry Truman; he's Benny Fagone. And if a majority of the people don't like the way he speaks out on the issues, they can always vote for someone else next year.
Others, we feel sure, will continue to appreciate honesty and candor, even in disagreement, and even when it is bluntly expressed.
And if what he says may not always be suitable for an afternoon tea party, he has not yet violated the Marquess of Queensbury's rules--and running a city or a school district is not an afternoon tea party.--E.A. [Eric Allen]
Medford Mail Tribune, July 27, 1975, page 4
Controversial Mayor of Medford Has Fun
By CHARLEY BLAINE
Correspondent, The Oregonian
MEDFORD--S. J. (Benny) Fagone wears three hats: A mailman's cap, the mayor's hat and one as a member of the Medford School Board. But Tuesday he may lose one.
Fagone will face a recall election for his position on the school board. He and two other board members, also on the recall ballot, are blamed by taxpayer James Christopherson for bringing on the budget woes the school district barely managed to survive last fall.
Voters finally approved a budget levy last Nov. 4, but only after school officials warned that rejection of the budget levy would result in closing district schools.
Even though Christopherson said Fagone is the "least qualified" to serve on the school board, the colorful public official refused in his words "to kowtow" to his opponents.
"If they don't want me on the board," he said, "they can show it at the ballot box."
Fagone is a controversial character who has been described around Medford as unique, a pusher, rude, wonderful, amazing, and a worker among other labels.
Everyone in Medford knows Benny. He often materializes like lightning in [the] Jackson County Courthouse, a downtown store, at his city hall office twice a day or at a night meeting.
He is always preceded by his voice. "How are ya!" he booms out, and people know Benny is around.
He is legendary for his faux pas. Reporters collect his quotes; his enemies wish he would remain quiet.
He also is known to stand up for anyone, even someone he doesn't like, because just beneath that Sicilian bravado there lurks a large heart. Barreling into a party of news reporters prior to Christmas, the New York-born mayor softened up when the host's 5-year-old daughter appeared, ready to go to bed.
"Did you say your prayers?" he asked. She nodded. "Did you pray for your mommy and daddy?" She nodded. "Are you a good little girl, so Santa Claus will visit you?" Again, she nodded yes.
"Good," he said, "now give me a kiss." The little girl did.
While he likes children, the mayor is "old school" when it comes to discipline.
"I had a choice in school," he recalled. "I could get hit with a 12-inch, a 24-inch, or a 36-inch paddle." The one-time shoeshine boy never graduated from high school.
Legend has it that when Fagone had his first date in Medford in 1942, he didn't have the two dollars to pay for the tickets to the ball game. So he offered her a deal: Pay for the tickets and I'll pay for the marriage license. She couldn't refuse.
Fagone arrived in Medford in 1942 as a 22-year-old Army sergeant assigned to escort Japanese-Americans to internment camps in California. The Japanese-Americans eventually returned to Medford, and so did Fagone.
Medford and Benny Fagone have been having a very loud love affair ever since.
Fagone was elected mayor of Medford on a write-in vote. He did not even start a campaign until barely a month before the November 1974 election, and still took time off for elk hunting.
Before he became mayor, he was known mainly as the man who pushed, cajoled, bullied and helped build a two-diamond softball complex that is named for him--Fagone Field.
A key part of his personality is his boisterous sense of humor.
When Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, on a visit to Oregon, arrived several hours late for a Democratic Party banquet, the mayor interrupted his introduction and said, "Just a second, Birch. We had to wait a couple of hours for you. I don't get to speak to a crowd this size very often. So you can wait for me."
When Fagone ran for mayor, Medford Mail Tribune editor Eric Allen Jr. endorsed Fagone's candidacy with the phrase. "Life with him as mayor might not be easy on everybody, but it sure would be fun."
"That turned out to be prophetic," Allen said later.
Oregonian, Portland, January 18, 1976, page 46
Two years ago, when Ben Fagone was seeking an unprecedented write-in election as mayor of Medford, we were among his strongest supporters.
It was our conviction that Ben's self-evident honesty, his frank (sometimes blunt) openness, his obvious dedication to his city and its people and particularly its children, could enable him to serve as a catalyst to city government, and move it toward a greater consensus in action.
It didn't work out that way. Benny's frankness was often interpreted as rudeness, his native speech patterns (which he was powerless to change) were considered by many to be crude vulgarities, and the dissensions among many of the council, exacerbated by a controversial city manager, made it impossible for Ben to forge a cooperative team.
He made a few mistakes, too (such as signing the ordinance effectuating the Stevens consulting contract without realizing he could have vetoed it), which he frankly admitted later.
We have not lost one whit of our respect or affection for Ben, but in the mayor's race this year, we feel we cannot again give him an endorsement, and we're sorry.
Medford Mail Tribune, October 27, 1976, page 4
By Vicki Guarino
Mail Tribune Staff Writer
He was feisty, strong-minded, tenacious. Loyal to his causes and what he thought was right.
He could seem abrasive, say his friends, especially to people who didn't know him. But Ben Fagone was stranger to few.
It's hard to talk about softball in Medford without mentioning his name. After all. the city playing field was named for him. And until illness overtook him last week, it was hard for Fagone not to talk about any of a long list of community issues on which he had an opinion.
Sebastiano J. Fagone--who always wanted folks to call him Benny, even while he was Medford's mayor--died Friday night in a Medford hospital from the effects of a heart attack suffered during heart surgery Monday. He was 66 years old.
The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Conger-Morris Medford Chapel, 715 W. Main St.
"My first impression of Benny was that he was an old grump," says Darryl Summerfield, who first played on a fast-pitch team that Fagone coached, and then coached against Fagone when both men led high school girls' softball teams--Fagone at Medford, Summerfield at Crater. But that was just Benny's way of breaking the ice.
"It didn't matter whether he knew somebody or didn't know somebody. He treated you the same."
Always honestly, says Medford City Manager John Thomson.
"You always knew where you stood with Ben, and I like that," Thomson says. "I'll miss him."
Thomson became city manager just before the end of Fagone's term as mayor. Fagone's mayoral victory in 1974 made history as the first win by a write-in candidate. He lost his bid for re-election in 1976 to Al Densmore.
Retired Mail Tribune Editor Eric W. Allen Jr. was one of several people who first urged Fagone to run as a write-in and then boosted his campaign. It was a victory accomplished by word-of-mouth endorsements, Allen recalls.
He says he backed Fagone because he thought "Ben's qualities and flair would better serve the people."
"Ben Fagone was an original," Allen says. "He was highly controversial, but no one ever questioned his dedication and honesty, and his forthrightness and willingness to stand up for what he believed was right."
Ben also was a symbol of the American dream--from an underprivileged childhood in New York to the mayor's job in Medford, by way of a hero's role in World War II.
He had two passions in life--service to young people, both through their schooling (he served on the Medford School Board) and through sports.
"Ben was always a good, stout friend," Allen said, "and even when he differed with someone, he bore no one any ill will. We can't afford to lose people like Ben Fagone."
In World War II, Fagone earned a Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Defense Medal, three battle stars, European Theater of Operations and Good Conduct medals. He retired with the rank of major and was the commanding officer of the Medford headquarters of the Oregon National Guard.
He moved to Jackson County in 1942 under assignment to Camp White, an Army training base that later would be the site of the Veterans Administration Domiciliary.
The next year he met his future wife, Helen Smedley, at a ball game. He borrowed from her the $2 he needed for admission.
"The story goes that he said he'd pay her back by buying the marriage license," says Sam Fagone, one of the couple's three children.
After retirement from the Army he became a mail carrier in Medford and stayed busy with softball and many youth activities. He was the first man to become president of the Oregon Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
At various times he played, coached and announced city league softball and was president of the Jackson County Softball Association.
In addition to his service on the city council and school board, Fagone was a three-time member of the city parks commission, a member of the board of directors of the Rogue Valley Transit District (serving as chairman in 1985) and a scoutmaster with the Cub Scouts.
Summerfield said Fagone's hard work and ability to gather volunteers made it possible to rebuild the ballpark which now bears his name.
"If Benny hadn't been there to prod, then it probably never would have gotten done," says Summerfield. "I think the most impressive thing about him was that he just wasn't a quitter on anything. He didn't necessarily do all the work, but he would make sure that the work got done."
Summerfield remembers spending many hours grooming the ballfield under Fagone's direction when Fagone was Summerfield's coach.
Fagone remained active until suffering a heart attack Aug. 2. The second heart attack occurred in surgery two days later.
Just days before the first attack he had made one of his regular stops at the city Parks and Recreation Department to talk about some new projects.
"He was always in the office once or twice a week," says department director Greg Jones, "either to give us a hard time about something, or just to say 'hi'."
And every day, says Jones, Fagone worked at Fagone Field.
Aug. 2 marked the second time heart trouble had put Fagone in the hospital. In 1976 he underwent artery bypass surgery, but didn't stay down for long. Shortly after that operation, he said in an interview that he was most eager to get back to what had become a favored avocation--getting into everyone's business.
He said, "Politically, I have no aspirations except to see to it that people are doing what I think they ought to be doing."
Medford Mail Tribune, August 10, 1986, page 1
The funeral for Sebastiano "Ben" J. Fagone, 66, of Medford, who died Friday, will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Conger-Morris Medford Chapel with Chaplain Lt. Col. David Campbell, Ashland, Oregon Army National Guard, officiating.
Interment will follow at Siskiyou Memorial Park.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Boy Scouts of America, 3039 Hanley Road, Central Point 97502, or to a scholarship fund for a student to go to Medford's sister city, Alba, Italy. Donations to the scholarship fund should be sent to Scott Spiegelberg, Station KOBI-TV, Medford 97501.
Friends may pay their respects until 7:30 p.m. today in the Conger-Morris Medford Chapel, 715 W. Main St.
Mr. Fagone was born Jan 14, 1920, in New York City. On Nov. 12, 1943, in Medford, he married the former Helen Smedley, who survives. He moved to the Rogue Valley in 1942.
He served one term as Medford's mayor, being elected in 1976 by write-in vote.
Mr. Fagone was active in softball from 1938 until 1977. He was Jackson County Softball All Star Manager eight times and State All Star Manager twice. Fagone Softball Field was named for him in 1971.
He was coach of Medford High School Girls Softball 1980-81; Coach of the Year at Medford Senior High School in 1980; deputy commissioner of the Jackson County Softball Association 1971-72, and was inducted into the Oregon State Softball Hall of Fame in August 1982. Earlier he managed the Oldtimers Softball in 1966 and the Medford American Legion team 1946-47.
He was part owner of the Medford A's baseball team.
Mr. Fagone's other activities include Parent Teacher Association, serving as president on both the local and state levels, and Scouting, in which he served as cubmaster.
He served on the board of the Rogue Valley Transportation District and as its chairman in 1985, on the Medford Parks Commission three terms, and on the Medford School Board.
A retired postman, Mr. Fagone served as president of the Medford Letter Carriers Association six terms.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, receiving a number of medals including the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He later was commanding officer of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, Oregon National Guard in Medford. He retired as major.
Survivors, in addition to his wife, include one son, Samuel P. Fagone, Central Point; two daughters, Antoinetta "Toni" Dawson, Jacksonville, and Patricia A. Colfax, Roseburg; one brother, Michael Fagone, Staten Island, N.Y.; and six grandchildren. One sister, Anna Shaw, preceded him in death.
Medford Mail Tribune, August 11, 1986, page 2
Last revised July 25, 2018