Plenty of unfinished business for this octogenarian
By Jessica Laskey
Raymond L. Ledesma has been an athlete, army medic, engineer, bar owner, writer, husband and father. At age 88, he recently learned to play guitar. But in some ways, he’s just getting started.
“My ambitions for the rest of my life are to get a boulevard in Sacramento named after my grandpa, who was a famous saddle maker, and get a book published,” Ledesma says.
Endless ambitions have taken Ledesma around the world. As a kid growing up in Fruitridge and Curtis Park, he attended C.K. McClatchy High School where he played baseball and football. When he got drafted, he attended medic training in San Antonio before spending six months in Korea.
When it became known that Ledesma was a baseball player, he was offered the chance to play in Japan while serving as an X-ray technician. That’s where he befriended fellow Sacramentan and future major league baseball coach Harry Dunlop.
When he left the service in 1955, Ledesma returned to Sacramento, got married and went to work for Western Electric installing telephone lines in Sacramento, Santa Rosa and Stockton. When he tired of that work, he moved to San Francisco with his wife and son and studied electrical engineering at University of San Francisco.
The next career stretch followed his talent for meeting the right people at the right time. He was offered a job installing communications systems in San Bernardino, which led to a job at McClellan Air Force Base. That led to top-secret work in Japan, Hawaii and Germany, installing critical communications infrastructure. He landed back in Sacramento in 1988 and retired—sort of.
“I kicked around after I retired, but then I bought some equipment and ended up doing lawns and cleaning HUD homes,” Ledesma says. “My wife was a beautician, so we also owned beauty shops.”
During a chance visit to Branson, Missouri, the couple spotted a sign advertising furnished condos for sale, so they bought one. Their neighbors happened to be music stars including Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Charley Pride, whom they befriended. The adventurous couple took over the bar and grill at the local country club. “My wife is a chef and told the owner the food could be better, so he handed her the keys,” Ledesma says.
When the Ledesmas returned to Sacramento to sell their home on 24th Street, Raymond was again on the hunt for something to do. Someone suggested he write a book. After some research, he did. “I had maybe read three books in my whole life, so I had to find out what it was,” he says. “I had to learn how to type. I wrote ‘Antonio’s Journey’ with one finger—it took me five years!”
Ledesma now has three books to his name: “Antonio’s Journey,” which is loosely based on his grandfather’s emigration from Italy to California; “Corsair,” about love and bravery in World War II; and “50 Years in a Kid’s Game,” Harry Dunlop’s autobiography that Ledesma co-wrote. The history buff also writes short stories and history pieces and travels to schools and clubs to talk about California history.
When he’s not writing, Ledesma golfs, fishes and visits far-flung family members: A grandson plays soccer in Germany, a son is a world-class surfer in San Diego, a daughter has a vineyard in Oregon, and another son and daughter live in Sacramento.
He hopes to convince his Branson music buddies to perform a concert for Guitars 4 Vets, a nonprofit that offers free guitar lessons to veterans. Ledesma himself is a graduate and says it helped immensely after his wife’s death last year.
“When I’m not doing anything, I pick up the guitar and try to make music,” Ledesma says. “One of these days, it’ll happen.”
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.