Korean War vet from Herminie was accomplished trumpeter
Without any formal musical training, Ronald R. “Ron” Abate of Herminie learned to play the trumpet at a young age. He was good enough that when he was in fourth grade, he was the lead trumpeter at the former Sewickley Township High School.
“His grandfather taught him how to play. He had an incredible talent to play by ear,” said his son, Ronald R. Abate Jr. of Jeannette.
Mr. Abate, 85, died Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Allegheny Health Network Forbes Hospital, Monroeville.
He was born May 28, 1933, in Herminie, a son of the late Albert and Elsie Mae Plues Abate. As an adult, he lived in the house where he grew up.
He had a budding music career while at Sewickley Township High School. It continued after graduation. He was the leader of the Polka Kings, playing the trumpet in the manner of famed trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Harry James, his son said. He made the rounds entertaining in local social and ethnic clubs, like the German and Italian clubs, he said.
Mr. Abate was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. Before being sent to Korea, Mr. Abate played in the Army band at Fort Knox. In Korea, he was a driver in the “Road Devils, a unit responsible for troop supply and movement,” his son explained. The unit endured the bitter cold Korean winter, which he described as being “horrid,” Abate said.
After returning home, he worked briefly as a laborer for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission when the segment of the toll road linking the Irwin and Somerset interchanges was built, his son said. He then worked for 37 years at the former Sterling Box Corp. in Jeannette. It was there he met his wife, Sally Lee Baughman, who also worked at the company.
Mr. Abate never lost his love of music. He played trumpet in the Royal Tones Dance Band for more than 10 years, and in the J. Howard Snyder Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Drum and Bugle Corps in North Huntingdon. He also played in the Pittsburgh Rockets Drum and Bugle Corps.
“The way we were raised, I did not know who the Beatles were, but I knew Harry James and Louis Armstrong,” his son joked.
Mr. Abate played Taps on his trumpet at the funerals of many veterans.
He was active in veterans affairs and was one of the founding members of the Herminie VFW Post 8427. He kept his membership his entire life, Abate said.
Mr. Abate loved camping, hunting and fishing.He enjoyed fishing at Twin Lakes Park near Greensburg and at Pymatuning and Moraine state parks. When it came to hunting, he’d head to the New Florence area, as well as Elk and Greene counties, his son said.
In addition to his wife of 59 years, Sally Lee Abate, he is survived by his two sons, Ronald R. Abate Jr. and his fiancee, Mary Beth Harvey, of Jeannette, and David A. Abate and his wife, Angel, of North Huntingdon; two granddaughters; and a sister.
A memorial gathering will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Joseph W. Nickels Funeral Home Inc., 404 Sewickley Ave., Herminie, at which time a memorial service will be held.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or [email protected]