Ralph “Babe” Serpico Memorial Field
Mayor Ronald M. Serpico and the village trustees issued a proclamation naming Melrose Park’s new sports complex as the Ralph “Babe” Serpico Memorial Field.
The new complex, located at 1000 N. 25th Ave., includes a grass soccer/football field with sports lighting for evening events and grandstand seating for 200 spectators. A four-lane synthetic rubber surface track surrounds the field and is available to residents and fitness center members for walking and jogging. On the northeast corner of the site, a 3500 square foot open-air, outdor shelter provides a covered recreation area as well as public toilet facilities. An exercise area and a bocce ball court will be located on the northwest corner of the site.
The majority of the funds to build the stadium came from the State of Illinois.
“Babe” Serpico: A Hero With a Heart
It is no secret that countless contributions to the development of this great country have been made by Americans of Italian ancestry. These men and women were responsible for the grandeur of architecture, art, music, politics, religion, and technological advancements. All grandiose, in that millions of people benefited by their achievements.
But America is a country of neighborhoods. It is made up of individuals who walk the streets of villages and towns touching the lives of young people. They lead by example, instilling character in all those who come in contact with them. They are there, in the trenches, offering a helping hand or a kind word to those in need. These persons symbolize strength as well as sincerity. They are true American heroes.
Ralph “Babe” Serpico epitomized the concept of a “local hero”. A native of Melrose Park, Babe was an All-American guard for the University of Illinois from 1943 trough 1947. A four-letter man at the U of I, he was the team’s captain as well as the defensive captain. His “Fighting Illini” had four winning seasons with a highlight being the 45-14 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl of 1947.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Babe unselfishly passed up offers for coaching positions out of state for the sole reason of staying with his family, in particular, to help his father, an Italian immigrant who was confined to a wheelchair. Despite his father’s physical challenges, he rarely missed Babe’s games, often sitting with the university’s president. Babe never forgot that support.
So that left Babe to find work locally in Melrose Park. He worked several side jobs before landing a position at the Cook County Assessor’s Office, one he held for nearly 24 years. He also served his community as Democratic Committeeman for 25 years.
But those who knew him best, remember him for his love for people. Melrose Park Mayor Ronald M. Serpico, Babe’s son, recalls this memory of his father: “There was a difference between bullies and tough guys back then. My father was a ‘man’s man'; a strong guy, but at the same time, he wore his heart on his sleeve. There wasn’t anyone he wouldn’t help. He would have guys cars fixed who couldn’t afford to fix them but needed their car to provide for their family. He found jobs for people and gave financial help to countless people. Be he always kept his assistance quiet so as not to injure the pride of those he helped. My father touched a lot of people in a good way. He was an outstanding Italian American who taught me the meaning of the word ‘family'”.
Although Babe Serpico passed away in 1995 at the age of 70, his legacy lives on in his son Ronald’s efforts to keep the community strong and ever improving, and his memory lives on as one of the town’s favorite sons.