It's been nearly a decade since longtime harness racing fan and proud American, Harold Zahn, passed away. The WWII veteran earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne.
On Saturday, April 2nd, 2011, family and friends will once again gather at Balmoral Park, in Crete, Illinois for the 10th Annual Harold Zahn Purple Heart Memorial Race.
The race, that features a Purple and White blanket presentation in the winner’s circle was the idea of Harold’s oldest son Dale and Dale’s wife LaVonne. “We felt there was no better way to keep Harold’s memory alive than to host a race in his honor, and to do it at the racetrack where Harold spent so many hours during his retirement years,” according to Dale. “We pulled it all together and hosted the first event two months after dad died, its been an annual event ever since.” Of the race, LaVonne has said many times, “Harold would have loved this!” Ever since his return home after WWII, he was a harness fan, and he and his ‘war buddies’ were frequently together at the old Washington Park Racetrack, Sportsmans, Hawthorne and of course Balmoral after the lights got turned on in the late 1960s. Mr. Zahn lived only minutes away from the Crete racetrack and is buried some 15 minutes away. Harold was living in Park Forest, Illinois at the time of his passing.
Though he never owned horses, he enjoyed the sport, a blue collar sport that suited him well after he’d work during the day in the building department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and was able to attend the races at night. In his final years he’d be seen with his hot black coffee, several racing programs, and an ashtray sitting in the second floor clubhouse at Balmoral Park. Harold never knew that his son and daughter-in-law would someday be horse owners and that Dale’s driving colors would be Red, White and Blue - again, he’d have loved it!
In early February, 2002, Harold and Dale and LaVonne were together in that very location when a phone call came in that his wife Marian had been taken to a nearby hospital after experiencing a fall. Some four days later it was Harold, who was in ill health at the time and getting around with the use of a walker, that found himself in the hospital and on February 10th, he died. The shirt he had on when taken to the hospital still had a ‘live’ betting voucher in the pocket. He was a great great fan and the Memorial Race recognizes that while also paying tribute to all Purple Heart veterans.
This year, the 10th Anniversary Memorial Race will actually be presented on Harold’s birthday – he would have been 89. It is expected that his only granddaughter, Mandy, will perform the National Anthem and Dale will take to the mike and announce the post parade. Guests from not less than 5 States will be in attendance.
The family believes Harold and Marian will both be watching from the clubhouse in Heavenly Downs, the great racetrack in the sky.
By, Dale P. ZAHN, Member USHWA