Living the moment
GLADSTONE – August “Augie” Altese is not your typical 92 year old. That’s evident after talking to the near-centurion for only a few minutes.
For instance, how often do you hear of of an active 92 year old athlete? And we’re not referring to bridge or shuffleboard here.
Altese, who was once part of the same University of Michigan football team as the legendary Tom Harmon, was recently invited to play in Michigan’s annual spring Legends Game. Incredibly, he accepted.
When looking at Altese, you see the history in his eyes. A man who was somewhat of a hero among his friends at Michigan, who went on to fight in World War II in the Air Force, who spent many years filling prescriptions at Dehlin Drug Store.
But on April 5, Altese was a Wolverine again for a day, as he participated in the sixth annual alumni flag football game. Altese played on the maize team against the blue team which featured former quarterback John Navarre and receiver Aaron Richards. Altese got to see game action for roughly five minutes. By far the oldest player on the field, Altese didn’t have a number because freshmen didn’t have numbers during his time.
“I didn’t have my hearing aids in and they just pushed me out there,” Altese said. “I was so pleased to see that everyone was clapping. They assigned me the last five minutes and I just kind of ran this way and that. They didn’t throw anything to me, but when I was warming up they threw me three passes. I missed the first two, caught the third one and fell, and I still feel it.
“”I had 26 relatives at the game – grandchildren, great grandchildren that all wanted to see me play at 92.”
Prior to the game, Augie met with current Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.
“I shook hands with him, and they entertained us Friday night,” Altese said. “They had a dedication of Bo Schembechler’s larger-than-life bronze statue.”
During the game he was sitting next to former Michigan running back Billy Taylor.
“He was a great runner for MIchigan, but he boozed it up and got into drugs after graduation,” Altese said. “Now he’s running an establishment that helps people. He’s a great guy.”
As a freshman at Michigan in 1940, Altese didn’t get much playing time, and though he was on the same team as legendary Michigan quarterback Tom Harmon, he said he never met him.
“Tom Harmon drove around in a coupe. He was being paid by Wrigley’s Chewing Gum,” said Altese of Harmon’s celebrity, obviously playing at a time before current NCAA regulations prevented that sort of thing.
“One of the guys on my freshman team became the manager of the Minnesota Vikings. There was Johnny Green who played for the Detroit Lions, Tom Kuzman, Forest Evashevski…”
Altese also met Fielding Yost, the legendary Michigan coach who was in his later years at the time was a frequent conversationalist.
“I talked to Fielding Yost several times at Michigan Union. He was in his 70s or 80s and loved to have people come and talk to him. He had those leather chairs and he’d be there.”
Altese was an end on the 1940 team and played both sides of the ball, as did everyone. Only two substitutions could be made per quarter.
He lived in brand new residence hall in the East Quad and was part of the first group to live in it. He says the group still has reunions. Three people showed up to the last one.
Admittedly, Altese said his exploits with the team didn’t last long. His mind was elsewhere and his social life took off.
“Fritz Crisler was the head coach. Wally Weber, Ray Fisher and Cliff King were the freshman coaches,” said Altese. “My grades weren’t very good and after two weeks, Crisler called me in and said I couldn’t play until I had a C average.
“I ended up dropping out of football and never went back.”
However, among his intramural team, Altese was a hero.
An article Altese passed along told of how Prescott Hall won the dormitory football crown over Williams 13-0 in overtime, thanks to the “accurate bullet passes of August Altese,” with one of the touchdowns coming on “a four yard heave from Altese to Russ Brown out of a spread formation, putting Brown out in the clear with no one within five yards of him.”
In subsequent articles, Altese was then known as “Bullet” Altese.
In 1943, Altese left school to join the Air Force, eventually becoming a navigator for B17 and B24 bombers in the 14th Air Force in Foggia, Italy and the 8th Air Force in Stowmarket, England.
Altese told of the day he heard the news that the Allies had invaded Europe. A few weeks prior, his crew was in North Africa and scheduled to return to Stowmarket, England.
“I remember, our bombardier said what’s our hurry? Let’s stay in London for a few days,” he said. “We got up June 6, 1944 and all over the news, was ‘Allies invade Europe’, and here we are in London, embarrassed. I got on a train, got to the 8th Air Force and flew the rest of my missions there, more than 35 of them.
While in Europe, Altese wrote often to the woman who would one day be his wife, Alice Dehlin.
Dehlin, a native of Gladstone enrolled in the Michigan College of Pharmacy in 1940, graduated in June of 1944 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy that fall. She spent 19 months was a W.A.V.E. working as a pharmacist at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Long Island, New York.
“When my time in the war was over, I came back to the States at Sebring, Fla. My job was engine training for new pilots and every other weekend, I would fly up to New York to see Alice,” Altese said.
At some point, Augie and Alice went their separate ways, Altese returning to school to finish his degree. He graduated in 1947 with a B.S. in chemistry.
“Alice and I made contact again in 1949 and eventually decided to get married. I had a degree in chemistry and went to work for Seagrams Distillers and Helin Tackle Company,” Altese said.
“Her dad had a drug store in Gladstone and she said, ‘why not go back to school?’ So I did. I went to pharmacy school.
Altese returned to Michigan in 1950, graduating from the school of pharmacy in 1953 and marrying Alice in June of that year. He went on to work at Dehlin Drug Store on the 800 block of Delta Ave., where he dispensed thousands of prescriptions over the years.
Alice was quite the athlete herself and was a four-time club champion at Gladstone Golf Club and a UPLGA champion as well.
The couple had five children; four daughters’ Mary, Susan, Ann and Katherine and a son Michael.
Alice passed away in June, 2003. Later that year, Altese was present for the 50-year reunion of his graduating class from pharmacy school. While on the Ann Arbor campus, he honored his wife’s memory.
“I knew she would want her ashes at the football game, so one of my daughters, Kathy came up from Florida and her and my son Mike went to the stadium with my wife’s ashes. Mike leapt over the barrier, and four feet west of the south goalpost is my wife’s ashes,” Altese said.
“At the legends game I told Brady Hoke. I told athletic director Dave Brandon. He said ‘well, we can’t do anything about that now,'” he laughed.
“I was told by my son Mike that there have been fewer touchdowns scored in the south endzone since her ashes have been there.”
The son of Italian immigrants from Sicily, Italy, and raised in Detroit, Altese is forever a part of multiple generations of Michigan Wolverines history, and still carries the Michigan spirit with him today.