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Marking the end of an evolving era

Mar 9, 2004 8:32 AM

(Note: Bob Hutchinson is a former employee and brother-in-law to Chuck Di Rocco)

An era has ended, after 69 years. It may seem a long time to some but for others it’s just not enough.

I first came to know Chuck around the summer of my fifteenth year. He offered to find me a summer job while I was spending my vacation with my sister in Orchard Park, New York. It was an easy enough gig. All I had to do was sell some posters. He provided me with the product, a likely perch, and a 25 percent cut of the proceeds. After sitting on a sidewalk in the sun for two days I had made a dollar. It was a dismal failure as business ventures go, but my first real stab at financial independence and Chuck made it possible. I will always remember that summer and the lessons I learned about life. That is how our relationship began.

Our paths crossed again when I was a young adult and found myself in the City of Sin. I was just passing through, officially, but I found the lure of the place irresistible and a short visit turned into a lengthy stay. When my funds ran out I wound up in Chuck’s employ. He had established himself in business here by that time and, small though it was, could always use a few extra hands. The entire staff back then numbered fewer than a half dozen, I think, and there was always more work than help. I started out proofreading copy and running errands and, soon enough, had several more duties and a handful of titles. The hours were long and the pay was lousy, but I never went hungry. Chuck always made sure I had a place to stay and enough to eat even if I didn’t have a dime in my pocket. He was always taking care of his people that way.

He was, to be sure, a demanding boss, and sometimes demanded what was thoroughly impossible. He was driven by his vision of success and would not accept a negative answer. We often referred to him as "Rock," though not to his face. It was partly a token of respect for his unwavering strength of character and partly a testament to how intractable he could be. I know now that I may have seen the best opportunity of my life there, but I was young and impatient, and eventually I grew tired of the workload. When Chuck and I finally parted ways it was none too amicably. It was with harsh words and, I think, an impolite hand salute. Fortunately he didn’t hold a grudge.

We didn’t see each other for some years after that, but when I found myself again between jobs, again the door was opened to me. This time around things were different. The company was more solvent, and the pay and working conditions were much more clearly defined. Working for Rock could still be trying sometimes, but it filled my life (and my bank account) at a time when I really needed it. So, once again, when I was out of luck it was Chuck who had pulled me out of the quagmire and set me right again. I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate then how grateful I should have been, but at least we bumped heads a lot less this time, and by the time my second stint of employment under him was over we had better cemented a friendship more than a decade in the making.

It wasn’t until quite recently that I began to realize how much and how often Chuck had impacted my early life. Sure, I had a lot of gripes about my days at Sports Form, as it was known then, but whenever I review those complaints I find them tightly braided with a wistful nostalgia for the town that was Vegas in the 1970’s, and the fun times we shared in it. Chuck could talk his way into, or out of almost anything. And he could tell a story, in person or in print, better than anyone I have ever known. He was a part of my life nearly as long as I can remember. His kind and generous deeds have touched every member of my family numerous times and his passing leaves a void that will never again be filled.

Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.