The Crowd: A story about the American dream

July 08, 2011|By B.W. Cook
  • Homer Bludau, Paul Salata and Tom Johnson at Irrelevant Week XXXVI in Newport Beach. The major sports event donated proceeds to Goodwill Industries of Orange County.
Homer Bludau, Paul Salata and Tom Johnson at Irrelevant… (Courtesy Laurie…)

Paul Salata is a living testament to the all-American ideal that hard work, perseverance and a bit of luck will pay off for any person living under the stars and stripes, regardless of race, creed, gender or national origin.

"I made it from L.A. to Newport Beach," said Salata, 85. "For me, that's success. That's the so-called American dream."

The second-born son of a Serbian family grew up northeast of downtown Los Angeles in Highland Park. His American-born mother, Melania, and father, Chetko, who had emigrated from the Herzegovina region in the former Yugoslavia, knew of nothing more important than family, church and hard work.

Melania, who was 15 when she married, and Chetko instilled in their large family the values that were once so much a part of the fabric of American society. Those values remain steadfast today, although they have been somewhat overshadowed by revolutionary changes in the social order.


"Does it still matter to be helpful to the next guy?" Paul Salata asked, adding, "How about doing something nice for someone for no reason at all?"

This week, after the Fourth of July celebration and just two weeks after Salata hosted the 36th Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach, which benefitted the Goodwill Fitness Center of Orange County, it seems appropriate to take society's temperature by peeking into the life of one Newport Beach citizen who rose from the ranks of the underdog to become a champion of the last person in line.

Chetko died when Paul Salata was 12, and the seven Salata brothers all went to work to support themselves and take care of their mother. His dad had worked on the construction of underground utilities and sewer lines, and eventually Paul Salata would follow in those footsteps after a career in the world of sports.

Football at Franklin High School in Los Angeles would land him a football scholarship to USC following World War II. In 1949, Salata signed with the San Francisco 49ers. He went on to play for the Colts and the Steelers. Following his football career, he entered the construction business and eventually found success as an investor and entrepreneur in various fields, real estate development being the most prominent among them.

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