LITTLE RED CORVETTE
One of my old friends and fellow writers wrote a cute article yesterday about his grandson and a battery-powered 1958 Chevy Corvette. The accompanying photo reminded me of another old buddy from Asbury Park High School who had the same model in the same color but only in real life. Henry was given his Corvette as a graduation gift from high school by his dad. That car was Henry’s pride and joy, and as of my last conversation with him, he still had it. That makes it a pretty old and valuable Corvette.
Henry Vaccaro is one of the most interesting people I know. He came from a very well-established and prominent family in town. His dad was a doctor, and his mother was his nurse. Dr. Vaccaro was known in the community as the most dedicated doctor in town and the hardest working. He was celebrated for his pro bono work for the impoverished community, and he almost always made house calls till as late as midnight. He was a workaholic. Aside from his occupation, he dabbled in real estate and became wealthy through that enterprise.
I was one of his patients, and I can tell you from experience his love and dedication and that of Mrs. Vaccarro. It seems I was always at the office being patched up from one football injury or the other. Sometimes I needed a few stitches or to be untwisted or dislocated finger adjustments. Once I mangled a finger so badly that the nail had to be removed. The shots in the finger did not affect the pain. It was a painful ordeal, and I’ll never forget Mrs. Vacarro hugging me and weeping while the doctor removed the nail. I’ll never forget that visit. They were so nice to me.
Henry had a brother and two sisters. His sister Fran is very special to me. I have always admired her. She was the best-dressed girl in school. She was one of my secret loves. I always thought her mom encouraged a relationship between us, but Fran was out of my league. For some reason, I always thought things in life would turn out to get married to her. That is some weird fantasy, but I know she keeps tabs on me on Facebook. I’m glad we are still friends.
Henry is considered by many to be MR ASBURY PARK. If one wants to know something about Asbury Park, Henry has the answer. After attending Villanova, he went into the commercial building and contracting business. He built schools and was involved in some huge projects throughout the state. A Vaccaro Construction sign would appear wherever there was a construction site in the shore area, whether for a new project or a demolition. In the winter, his company would be involved with snow removal. He had a huge amount of heavy equipment available for emergency projects done many times at no charge for the local communities.
Aside from construction, Henry is a true entrepreneur. At one time, he owned the Kramer Guitar Company. Kramer was located in Neptune, NJ, and was considered the leader in the contemporary guitar business for many years. Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and many others proudly used their guitars. As a result of the guitar business, Henry became very close to Johnny Cash and June Carter. One might say they became the closest of friends. Henry penned a wonderful book about their relationship titled Johnny Cash is a Friend of Mine. It’s a wonderful account of their relationship and the experiences they shared. After it was published, Henry presented one of the first copies to me as a gift.
During the Johnny Cash days Henry, his brother, Johnny Cash, and Ernie Anastas jointly purchased the Berkley Carteret Hotel on the ocean in Asbury Park to rehabilitate the hotel. The Berkley is known as the city's gem and had fallen on hard times, as did the entire area. Johnny and June had a suite built for themselves on the sixth floor and became residents of Asbury Park. They also became spokesmen for the city and were involved with many functions benefitting the area.
In the era of Michael Jackson, Henry became involved in various enterprises with the Jackson family. Unfortunately for all concerned, the project turned out bad and cost Henry most of his acquired wealth. The corrupt Jacksons almost took him for everything. Henry proceeded with legal means and eventually won a summary judgment against the Jacksons. The judgment involved taking possession of three warehouses containing family possessions. All of the contents were shipped to Henry’s warehouse on Second Ave. in Asbury Park.
The week before the contents arrive, a mutual friend passed away, and the funeral was scheduled for the following weekend in Asbury Park. I made the trip from Hilton Head to Asbury Park for the funeral. Simultaneously the trailers with the Jackson possessions arrived at the warehouse and were unloaded. The day after the funeral, I met Henry for breakfast, and he invited me to his warehouse to rummage through the Jackson contents in search of treasure.
We spent the entire day going through memorabilia. We went through everything as best we could. It was a treasure trove later estimated at over $15,000,000 in value, representing less than Henry needed to be healed, but it was good enough to make him a happy camper. Later on, when Jackson hit the news, it became known that Henry Vaccaro had the largest collection of Jackson memorabilia in existence. I remember seeing him being interviewed on ABC. He said, “before he won the judgment, he was almost broke, and now he can afford meatballs on his spaghetti,” very much like Henry.
Another of Henry’s interests is visiting war memorials all over the world. He is particularly fond of WWII sites since his uncle died in the Bataan Death March. He has been all over and has interviewed and become friends with many of the older vets. He makes these journeys about once a year and has invited me to accompany him. For the life of me, I don’t know where he gets his energy. Nowadays, he brings his grandson with him.
His latest literary piece is about the growth of Asbury park in modern times. It’s an ongoing work in progress regarding the inner workings of this most ungrateful and corrupt city. This issue has been very much on Henry’s mind for a long time. He has been kicked around for several years, and according to him, the handling of civic contracts is extremely dishonest. He has not been given a fair shake, after all, he has done for the city over the years. The city should erect a statue in his honor.
Henry can be found most days taking a stroll on the Asbury Park boardwalk, where he is greeted by his many friends and associates from over the years. Once in a while, a group stops him to ask questions about Asbury Park's past. Please understand me. Henry is far from a broken-down older man with empty eyes and tales to tell. He is as active and driven as he always has been. He is always on the lookout for new adventures and challenges. Recently he has revived the Vaccaro Guitar Company with an innovative proprietary product.
Whenever we visit Asbury Park, we meet Henry for lunch. We catch up and talk about old times. We’re good friends and communicate at least once a week.
One last nugget regarding Henry’s red corvette. Bobby King of King World Productions once borrowed the Corvette for a date and didn’t return it for three days. I said to Henry, “that must have been some date.” Henry replied,” I don’t know about that, but he did run out of gas.” You had to know Bobby.