Right up until his death two months before his 80th birthday in 2002, Harold Zahn could be found in the second floor clubhouse at Balmoral Park, watching and wagering on the Harness Races.
It didn't take long for his son and daughter-in-law, Dale and LaVonne who reside in Holland, Michigan,to launch what has become a annual tradition in honor of this dedicated race fan and one of the proudest American's you'd ever want to meet. Its the Annual Harold Zahn Memorial Race conducted each year on the first Saturday in April at Balmoral Park Racetrack.
Having earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne during WWII, Harold returned home after the war and immediately became involved in the organizations like the Military Order of the Purple Heart, VFW, and American Legion. He and his 'war buddies' would regularly attend the Harness races in the Chicago area - mostly at Washington Park and Balmoral when it rose from the weeds in the late 1960s. Harolds oldest son, Dale, was his buddy and he'd frequently take his son to the races. At first, Dale didn't really care for 'those buggy races - aren't horse races supposed to have little guys riding the horses?' It didn't take long, however for young Dale to become hooked. By the late 60's/early 70's Dale was learning to announce the races and hosted a Harness Racing radio program on three Chicago area stations.
Harold, retired from his work in the building department at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago in the early 80's and enjoyed golf by day and the harness races at night. As his health declined, golf became a memory but he could always get to the races even when using a walker. He was very predictable. Second floor clubhouse with ashtray, plenty of smokes, hot black coffee and his racing programs. This is a man that just loved it. No, he never owned race horses - the closest he came to being 'involved' was that he once painted Harry Burright's helmet! He also got to meet some of racings 'Stars' when his son was doing the radio show.
Just two days before his passing, he was at Balmoral. Just 6 days before his passing he and Dale, now an adult with kids of his own, and LaVonne, were together at Balmoral.The shirt he was wearing when he went to the hospital for the last time had a live betting voucher in it. Get the picture? Harold loved the sport that his Dale and LaVonne would later become involved in as owners and as a participant in the Amateur Driving ranks, most particularly in the CKG Billings Series. Harold never got the chance to see Dale drive or to know that the Zahn's were now owners. Its no secret why Dale's driving colors are Red, White and Blue - clearly for Dad and for our country. LaVonne has said many times, "Harold would have just loved this - he'd surely have traveled with us and just been in awe of it all. We've got to think he's watching from the Heavenly Oval up above." Harold is buried just minutes away from Balmoral Park.
This year, the 8th Annual Memorial Race will take place on Saturday, April 4th. Friends and family members will be in attendance, Dale will likely announce the post parade as he has in the past, and the group will again present a Purple and White Blanket to the winning team. This year, a new and special touch will be added as Harold's only granddaughter, Mandy Zahn, will perform the National Anthem live from the winners circle.Mandy is quite a singer and someday hopes to make a name for herself in the music industry.
The Zahn's have made it a point to not only remember Harold on this Memorial Race night, but to acknowledge and thank all the veterans of America, and most specifically those that have earned the Purple Heart. So now, when you see Harold Zahn Memorial Race in the Balmoral program, or hear about it when announced at the track, you'll have a better understanding as to what its all about, a tribute to a great fan of harness racing and a proud American.
Dale and LaVonne ZAHN