The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2013

A Don McCormack column: Readers answer the call, again

Sports Editor

— One of the truly enjoyable aspects of doing this job is the interaction and feedback I receive from you, Loyal Readers, on an almost-daily basis.

Case in point, the centerpiece of Monday’s sports section, which dealt with Sports Illustrated and locals —specifically, people from Ashtabula — who have appeared on the cover of the magazine.

I wrote that last week’s issue of SI with hometown hero Frank Hall on the cover marked the second time an Ashtabula guy was on the cover of the magazine, the first being then-Florida coach Urban Meyer in 2009.

Of course, my inbox blew up Monday morning. I received no less than 50 messages about that aspect of the story, all saying the same thing — “Benji Ramirez was on the cover!”

For those who may not know, Benji Ramirez was an Ashtabula High School football player who died after taking anabolic steroids.

A story, written by Rick Telander, appeared in the Feb. 20, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated.

The story featured plenty of photos, including several by one of his friends, Aaron Morris, from the funeral service.

However, Loyal Readers, the story was — thankfully — not the cover story, nor did any photos of Ramirez appear on the cover.

The cover boy for that issue was basketball player Chris Jackson, who went on to a long, albeit troubled career in the NBA.

Along those lines...

The final item in Monday’s centerpiece dealt with Sally Sarell, who was the Playmate of the Month in the March 1960 issue of Playboy.

I asked if anyone had information about Ms. Sarell and, lo and behold, I received several messages and a few telephone calls.

Here’s a sampling:

From Mary Fors Smith: “Sally graduated from Harbor High School with the Class of 1956. I’m sorry to say that she passed away many years ago. I have fond memories of her in school. Always basically shy and none of her classmates ever expected her to be the centerfold of Playboy magazine. It seemed to be very unlike her.

“Even though Playboy said Sally was from Helsinki, Finland, she was born in good old Ashtabula General Hospital just 3 days before I was. Our mothers, I think, were roommates back when you had to stay in the hospital for 7 days following childbirth.

“Her brother’s name was Charles. Her daughter was here several years ago to visit with her aunt, Helmi Luomala. Helmi has also passed away.

“Thank you for the little blurb into memory lane.

“I do remember that the issue of Playboy sold out in Ashtabula!”

And this one, from Vince Grippe: “I’d like to bring you up to date on Sally Sarell. She was born to Walter and Sally Sarell. She graduated in 1956 from Harbor High School. She had a brother named Charles and they both worked as models in NYC.

“She dated several movie actors, including Hugh O’Brien. She eventually moved to Florida, where she got married and had a daughter. Her mother was also in Florida after her husband, Walter, died.

“Sally died of cancer around the mid-’90s. Her mother and brother also passed within the next couple years. Her daughter, Chandra, moved to Atlanta, became an attorney, and married an airline pilot for Delta named Charles Tutt. She became a mother and homemaker.

“I know all this as her daughter came to Ashtabula not knowing anything about her mother or her mother’s family. She contacted a cousin she never met and requested a little time to learn about her family. The cousin, in turn, contacted me knowing that we were neighbors growing up and spent our high school years together.

“I gave Shandra a 1956 Harbor High School yearbook to keep which showed pictures of her mother in her youth. To this, she was very grateful.

“Sometime later, I received a thank you note and a message that expressed how pleased she was with our visit.

“While I was working in downtown Manhattan, I would occasionally visit Sally when she wasn’t traveling the world working as a model or in movies. I remember one time she just returned from Brazil as an extra in a Beatles movie.”

Thank you, Loyal Readers, for doing just that — reading — not to mention, writing. Your willingness to respond to my many inquiries never ceases to amaze me.

Your feedback is always much appreciated.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at