Following two very high profile memorial services earlier this week for boxing greats Carmen Basilio and Emanuel Steward, a third ceremony will take place this weekend for a far less known member of the boxing community who is, nonetheless, deserving of a proper send-off. After 71 years, fallen fighter Ray Bonti will finally get just that. His surviving family, in conjunction with Ring 10 Veterans Boxing Association of New York, will remember the former welterweight with a dedication ceremony on Saturday morning and placement of a long awaited marker at his grave site.
Bonti, a 24-year old club fighter from Queens, was buried in an unmarked grave in Flushing after he tragically died from injuries sustained in the boxing ring in 1941. Coming from a meager background, Bonti's family was unable to provide him with an adequate memorial or proper burial with a headstone. A private vigil was held in the living room of Bonti's home in Bayside where he lived with his young wife and her parents.
The inability to put a marker at the grave and the lack of acknowledgement from the boxing community of the ultimate sacrifice the brave fighter made to the sport left Bonti's family without a sense of closure. Attempts made by Bonti's siblings to rectify the situation years later were unsuccessful due to a variety of legal, administrative and logistical challenges.
Bonti's aging and ailing sister Frances asked her daughter, Rosemarie Saenz, to take over the effort five years ago. Saenz, who has resided in Florida since 1956, grew up with stories about "Uncle Ray" that were shared by her bereaved mother. The loving daughter willingly embarked on a mission to obtain the desired closure for the entire family.
When Saenz contacted the cemetery where Bonti is buried, she was informed that a deed was required for a marker to be placed at the site. Therefore, Saenz's initial focus was to track down the deed from Bonti's wife with whom the family had lost contact over the years. However, those efforts proved to be unfruitful.
Joyce Bundschuh, Saenz's cousin and the daughter of one of Bonti's three sisters, supported the efforts as a local liaison in New York. It was Bundschuh who led Saenz to the Diocese of Brooklyn/Queens where, after evaluating the situation, the restriction to produce the deed was waived in June of this year. Only an affidavit to verify relationship was instead required.
"This really opened the door," said Saenz. "There were still a lot of little glitches and obstacles along the way, but once this door was opened it got things moving."
One such obstacle was the cost of the marker. With half of the money saved, Saenz contacted Ring 10 President Matt Farrago for their support and participation in the ceremony. Skeptical that assistance would be given after so much time had passed since Bonti's death, Saenz was touched when Farrago later informed her that Ring 10 would take part in the memorial service, honor Bonti with a "10 count" to respect him as a fighter and pay for the remaining half of the expenses for the marker.
"He did everything he said he was going to do," Saenz said of Farrago. "He's very loyal and doesn't do anything he doesn't mean."
The same can be said for Saenz. Her loyalty and tenacity allowed her to overcome subsequent challenges, such as obtaining Bonti's date of birth so it could be included on the marker and navigating through inconsistent recordkeeping to ensure the proper name of her uncle was engraved on it: Renard "Ray" Bonti – Always Loved, Never Forgotten.
"Throughout this process, it's almost as if I felt my uncle's presence like he was guiding us. He really wants this marker!", exclaimed Saenz.
The recent weather in New York forced Bonti to wait a little bit longer. The marker had been stored in a shed at the cemetery for over two weeks since Hurricane Sandy and a subsequent snowstorm prevented it from being placed at the grave site until only a day ago.
With the marker now finally in place, the memorial is scheduled for this Saturday, November 17, at Mount St. Mary Cemetery located at 172-00 Booth Memorial Avenue in Flushing, New York at 11:00 AM.
Bonti's ailing sister Frances, who turns 91 next month, is not well enough to make the trip from Florida but her daughter Saenz has made her aware of the good news. The ongoing efforts to acknowledge her brother have sustained her hope throughout the years and, although she is unable to attend the service, she can now finally find the peace that has eluded her family since that tragic evening in 1941. Bonti's other surviving sister, 93-year old Mary who lives in Flushing, will attend the ceremony and represent the family.
As will, of course, Rosemarie Saenz.
As Saenz reflected on her journey for closure and the support shown by Ring 10 to help make it possible, she pointed to the catch phrase that was regularly used by former American broadcaster Paul Harvey, of whom her late father was a big fan - "You know the news. In a moment, you're going to hear the rest of the story."
"The real story of my Uncle Ray did not take place 71 years ago. This is really the rest of the story."
Happily, it's a story with a positive ending.
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