Ben Zalas, a fixture in the press box at UW-Oshkosh home football games from 1970-2011, passed peacefully April 22 in Oshkosh at the age of 96.
Zalas was born November 27, 1921, in South Bend, Ind. He was the second of five children to Joseph and Helen (Bolka) Zalas.
Zalas was a popular and achievement-oriented young man. He was elected senior class president and named team captain for both football and basketball at South Bend Catholic High School (Ind.), from which he graduated in 1940. Zalas married his wife, Helen Marie Sygler, on August 23, 1947, in South Bend. Together they lovingly raised a family of six children, 33 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.
When the United States entered World War II, Zalas was drafted into the Army in 1942 and completed basic training at Camp Wheeler in Georgia. His unit was sent to Casablanca, North Africa, where Zalas would eventually face action in Italy after the invasion. Zalas was seriously wounded in fighting with German forces at Sevarro, Italy. He recovered and later returned to the United States in 1945 after honorably completing his military service.
Zalas was awarded numerous citations for bravery during his military service, including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, the WWII Victory Medal, the European Theater Medal Cluster and the French Fouragere Campaign Citation.
Soon after returning to the United States from Africa, Zalas began university studies for a professional career in education by enrolling at Ball State Teachers College (Ind.). Zalas and his wife started their lives and family as a young married couple, making their home in Muncie, Ind. After earning a bachelor's of science degree in education from Ball State Teachers College in 1950, Zalas accepted a teaching position at Scott High School in Stone Lake, Ind.
Following teaching, coaching and administrative positions at St. Mary's High School in Michigan City, Ind., and River Forest High School in Hobart, Ind., Zalas began his career at UW-Oshkosh in 1970 by accepting the position of program development specialist for the College of Education, Division of Continuing Education. He worked under the late Dr. Hal Krause, who was public address announcer for the UW-Oshkosh home football games.
"Hal asked me shortly after I was hired if I would like to work with him in the press box and run the scoreboard at the UW-Oshkosh football games," Zalas said during a 2011 interview when the UW-Oshkosh Athletics Department honored him for his 40 years of service in the football press box. "Having been involved in sports most of my life, I was happy to help out. My oldest son Eric (UW-Oshkosh '73) worked as a student spotter with me during the 1971 and 1972 seasons."
Sports were always a passion for Zalas and he enjoyed playing golf, tennis, baseball, basketball and hockey. He passed that love of sports to his children. Zalas was an outstanding golfer and finally accomplished a lifelong dream when he recorded a hole-in-one while playing at Westhaven Golf Club in Oshkosh at the age of 76. He was a loyal, lifelong University of Notre Dame and Chicago sports fan.
Zalas, who retired from UW-Oshkosh in 1990, was also a very social man who enjoyed entertaining people on stage. He participated in several theatrical plays while a high school administrator in Indiana and played the role of a psychiatrist in the theater performance of "Anatomy of a Murder" in Oshkosh in 1971.
Zalas loved his home in Oshkosh and was very active in the supporting the community during retirement, especially during fund-raising events for charitable causes.
Zalas is survived by his sister, Rita Derda (South Bend, Ind.), and his children Kathy Soderquist (David), of Hobart, Ind.; Eric Zalas of Carmel, Ind.; Peggy Pavese (Dan Polomchak) of Portage, Ind.; Terry Zalas (Connie), of Fremont; Cindy Dearing (Brian) of Mequon; and Judy Frey (Steve) of Oshkosh.
Zalas was preceded in death by his beloved wife Helen; parents Joseph and Helen Zalas; infant son William Patrick; grandson Jonathon James Zalas; daughter-in-law Jacquelyn Sue Harvey (Eric Zalas); sister Henrietta Sideritz; brother Arthur Zalas; and brother Ervin Zalas.
A Mass of Christian Burial for Zalas will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 5 at St. Mary's Church (730 Madison Ave.) in Omro. Visitation will be held May 5 at the church from 9 a.m. until the time of the service. Burial with military honors will be held at Lake View Memorial Park (2786 Algoma Blvd.) in Oshkosh immediately following the service.