This is a story about a guy who has many stories to tell.

Too many to share in this space.

“You want to write a book?” he asks. For now, I’ll stick to this format.

Vic Venegas is one of those individuals who puts you at ease the moment you
introduce yourself.

That happened about three weeks ago. I had gone to Warren Regina to see a CHSL girls playoff semifinal basketball game. This Vic was sitting with another Vic — Michaels, director of the CHSL.

Introductions were made. “Just the man I want to see,” I said to this Vic. What a happy coincidence. He had been on my to-interview list for a while.

Venegas, 76, was at the game to watch his granddaughter, Claire McClorey, play. She’s a sophomore at Wixom St. Catherine of Siena. He and I huddled on the front row of the stands: I’m scribbling away while he’s keeping an eye on Claire and entertaining me with all kinds of anecdotes about his life, his family, and his faith.

“I was born and raised in Corktown,” he boasts.

His father, Moses, dropped out of school and married when he was 18. His mother, Mary, was 21. “She was devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe. She loved everyone. She was an angel and a saint.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t tell this,” Vic says, “but my father won $500 in a craps game and used the money to open a gas station and towing business in downtown Detroit. He was successful.”

Vic had a brother and two sisters. “Our parents made sure we had a good education,” he says. “Paul went to U-D Jesuit, Dolores to the girls Catholic Central, Laura to (Dearborn) St. Alphonsus.”

In 1963, when Laura was 6 years old, “my father rescued her from their burning apartment building.” The family relocated to Dearborn. Moses died in 1983, Mary in 2007.

Vic attended Assumption High School in Windsor. He played baseball and football. “For three years, when Reno Bertoia (who lived in Windsor and attended Assumption University) played for the Detroit Tigers, he would pick me up from school and drive me home.”

A week before his graduation in 1960, Vic was hit in the right eye by a baseball. “I was sitting in the dugout waiting to bat when a line drive came right at me. I lost 90 percent of my vision in that eye.

“The doctor let me out of the hospital so I could attend graduation ceremonies.”

In 1961, Vic was 18 when he was hired by the pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Msgr. Clement Kern, as the school’s athletic director, a responsibility he still cherishes 59 years later.

“I started the athletic program but had no money. I met (the late) Frank Guyott (sports editor of The Michigan Catholic) who wrote an article. I give him all the credit. We received thousands of dollars and donations of uniforms and equipment.”

Vic ticked off names of community movers and shakers he’s met who generously support to this day the parish’s outreach programs for the poor and vulnerable and the school — capped off by an anonymous gift of $2.5 million for a new gym, slated to open in September.

“Having our own place will save us about $10,000 a year we pay to rent places for our kids to play,” Vic says.

Annually in January, a Championship Day fundraiser is held to defray the costs of running the athletic program that offers baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and cross country.

Vic and the coaches are volunteers. “I have not received one penny,” he says.

For about the last 10 years, Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, is in a stunning revival mode. The old Tiger Stadium site at Michigan and Trumbull Avenues has been developed into a youth sports facility. Restaurants, houses and apartments are sprouting seemingly daily. Ford Motor Company bought the long-abandoned Michigan Central Station with a promise to restore the building to magnificence and bring thousands of new jobs and new people to the area.

“There’s new life here,” Vic says. He thinks in time enrollment at Holy Trinity School could nearly double to 300 students.

Vic's late wife, Julie, was a cheerleaders coach. They married in 1964 and had three children: David, Marisa and Monica. Julie passed in 1987.

David was quarterback at Dearborn Divine Child and went on to Albion playing for the MIAA championship. He’s a human resources officer at Nissan. His son, Josh, played for Walled Lake Western’s state football champs.

Josh, by the way, will be graduating this spring from Northwestern University and will pursue a career in medicine. Vic proudly points out he’ll be the sixth of his 10 grandchildren who are college graduates.

Monica Higgins was a member of Divine Child’s 1989 state basketball champs. She went on to Bowling Green University, and is likewise in human resources for an engineering firm in Southfield.

Her son, Nolan, is a freshman at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and plays three sports.

Marisa McClorey is a Michigan State grad and is involved in a cosmetics sales. Her son, Brandon, played football at Novi Detroit Catholic Central. He went to Albion.

Vic’s brother Paul was quarterback and captain of the 1967 U-D Jesuit football squad. A Michigan State alum, he owns an insurance agency. A generous donor to Holy Trinity, he funds a scholarship for boys going to U-D Jesuit.

One of his recipients is Christian Armstrong, a sophomore at U-D and manager on the top-ranked Cubs’ basketball team.

Now, while all of this was going on, Vic went to Michigan for a real estate degree.

“One day, Msgr. Kern says to me, ‘I got a job for you at Wayne County.’” The job lasted 25 years, most of the time directing the county’s real estate properties.

In the early 2000s, when the Detroit area was a hot location for Hollywood, Vic was a VIP chauffeur for some of its biggest stars, among them, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal, Drew Barrymore and Sigourney Weaver.

“One day, cold like it is now, Pacino was making the Dr. Kervorkian movie in Royal Oak. He saw a man standing around watching, holding a 2- or 3-year-old boy. He yelled out, ‘Take that baby home and I’ll give you an autograph.’

“Later, as we were driving out, Pacino tells me, ‘Stop the car.’ He noticed the man, and got out of the car to give him his autograph. He was a real nice guy.”

What’s the bottom line? What drives Vic Venegas?

“My motivation is children, that they get an education to get a better life. With education and discipline, kids can become better citizens. This is true of my own family.

“I’ve done well, and I want to give back.”

That sounds like a good plot for a book.

Contact Don Horkey at dhorkey@wowway.com.


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