Happy 90th birthday, Al Balshor!

While sitting alongside his wife, Marie, Al Balshor blows out candles on his birthday cake during a gathering in his honor at Balshor Florist on Nov. 22, 2014. Photo by Lance Armstrong

While sitting alongside his wife, Marie, Al Balshor blows out candles on his birthday cake during a gathering in his honor at Balshor Florist on Nov. 22, 2014. Photo by Lance Armstrong

Sacramento native Antonio Alberto “Al” Balshor, a man known for his longtime ownership of Balshor Florist on Riverside Boulevard, just south of Broadway, recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Al, who was born on Nov. 22, 1924, grew up in a large family in a home at 315 U St., near Southside Park.

In speaking about that residence during an interview with this publication three days prior to his birthday, Al said, “My parents (Portuguese natives Arthur and Grace Secco Balshor) bought that home in 1921 from (Daniel) Stanich, (who had moved into the house in about 1912).”

Al also mentioned that he was literally born in the aforementioned U Street home.

“In those days, people made house calls,” Al said.

Al then explained that his mother was also known for making house calls.

“(Grace) delivered a lot of babies in the neighborhood,” Al said. “She was kind of the unofficial midwife. Back in those days, you helped each other. There were a lot of midwives in those days.”

In addition to her unofficial midwife work, Grace, who became a widow in 1929, was also a local cannery worker.

And in speaking about the longtime importance of canneries in Sacramento, Al said, “Canneries put a lot of people’s food on the table, you bet your life. That was a big operation. The (Southern Pacific) shops were the same way.”

Al added that Grace would also pick prunes in Colusa with her family.

“We picked prunes at Colusa during the off season up there,” Al said. “A lot of the people around that neighborhood went up to Colusa (to pick) prunes. I hated it. My mom would give me 10 boxes and it would take me all day long to pick them. It was a nickel a box. We made enough to buy shoes and stuff. It was around August and then we would come back and go to school.”

Al was educated in local schools, as he first attended the very integrated Lincoln School at 4th and Q streets. He was then a student at William Land Elementary School at 1116 U St. for the 4th, 5th and 6th streets before returning to Lincoln School for the 7th, 8th and 9th grades.

Next, Al attended Sacramento High School, where he played on the school’s football team and graduated in 1942.

Al continued to speak about his many years of working, noting that he once had three Sacramento Bee routes.

His other jobs included selling programs for boxing matches at the old L Street Arena at 223 L St., pitching watermelons at the Sacramento Farmers Market at 2630 5th St., just south of Broadway, and washing bottles at Jones Howell pickle works at 315 T St.

Al mentioned that he also worked as a motorcycle courier.

“I drove (three wheeled) motorcycles for Willis & Martin Co. at (1001-1003 K St.),” Al recalled. “I delivered drugs. I got paid $50 a month, but I had to quit the job, because I got two tickets and I couldn’t afford to get them. Hollywood stop.”

Following high school, Al obtained a job as a flower wholesale worker for Lino Piazza at 1328 7th St., before accepting a position delivering ice for the Consumers Ice & Cold Storage Co. at 831 D St.

Although Al had intended to attend Sacramento Junior College – today’s Sacramento City College – he stated, “The U.S. Army was my college education.”

After being drafted into the Army in 1943, Al was sent to Camp Carson (now Fort Carson) in Colorado.

Six months later, Al went to Nashville, Tenn. Then in December 1943, he was sent to Camp Kilmer, near New Brunswick, N.J.

Al was eventually given official clearance to return home after his brother, Joe, died in the war on Jan. 13, 1944, but Al opted to remain in the Army.

On Feb. 12, 1944, Al traveled overseas on the Queen Mary troopship for seven days.

Sacramento native Al Balshor, who has worked and resided in the Land Park area for the past 64 years, recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Photo by Lance Armstrong

Sacramento native Al Balshor, who has worked and resided in the Land Park area for the past 64 years, recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Photo by Lance Armstrong

During his interview for this article, Al pointed to a display case on a wall, and then said, “I was a medic and an ambulance driver. Right outside here, I’ve got my little shrine. There’s (a photograph of Gen. George) Patton (in that shrine) and I’ve got the little ambulance (replicas) in there, and some lady from France brought me some things over. She came visiting some graves across the street (from Balshor Florist), then I got to talking to her, and I said, ‘Oh, I was in (France).’ And she came up and gave me a big hug and said, ‘I never met anybody that helped save my country – France.’ So, what she did was she came back two years later and brought me these (coins from the five campaigns before the war ended).”

Al, who spent six months in Wales before D-Day and was on the border of Poland when the war ended, recalled his postwar return to the United States.

“I went down to Marseilles, France,” Al said. “I came all the way from Marseilles into Newport News, Va. Then I went from Virginia on the train all the way out here (to Sacramento). I came through Reno, came all the way to Sacramento (to the Southern Pacific passenger depot). We had to come here to go back to Camp Beale (today’s Beale Air Force Base). For some reason or another, the train had to come here to go back. I asked the conductor, ‘How long are you going to be here?’ He said, ‘Oh, about four hours.’ So, I got in a cab at midnight and came down and started banging on my mom’s door. She was crying and screaming. She didn’t know I was coming home. I got back on the train and three days later I was home. So, that was the story.”

In 1946, Al became one of the charter members of Southside American Legion Post 662.

Al, who is also a longtime member of the Sacramento Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Southside Improvement Club, the American Portuguese Club and the Portuguese Historical and Cultural Society, also spoke about his wife, Marie, who he first met on her family’s farm in Dixon in 1934 when he was 9 years old and Marie was 6 years old.

“(Al’s sister), Lucille, and Marie (who had developed a longtime dislike for Al during an incident in Dixon that ended in a water fight) went to the Pelican Club (at 2231 10th St.) one night,” Al said. “(Marie) happened to go there with my sister. So, we ended up there, had a couple of drinks and then we went to the Swing Club at (541 N. 16th St.). They had a band and Marie and I were dancing. When the dance was over, I gave her a kiss on the cheek and we’ve been in love ever since. We used to have bands in those days. That was in (April) 1947 and we got married on Jan. 1, 1948, on New Year’s Day. We got married in Dixon at St. Peter’s Church.” The couple eventually had three children, Judie, Al, Jr. and Jerry.

While dating Marie, in 1947, Al went to work at Relles Florist at 2220 J St. by way of the GI Bill.

In 1950, Al opened the original location of Balshor Florist at 730 O St.

Twenty-two years later, a plan to redevelop the site forced Al to relocate his business to its present location at 2661 Riverside Blvd.

In describing his business, Al said, “We’re a certified, all-around florist – a full service florist. We do weddings, parties, we do funerals, anything. We’re just a full fledged florist. We’re qualified to do anything we need to do.”

Sixty-four years after establishing Balshor Florist, Al remains very active in the operations of his business.

“I got out of the service on Nov. 4, 1945, and I opened my shop up on Nov. 4, 1950,” Al said. “And I still work every day, six days a week. That’s what keeps me young.”

Lance@valcomnews.com

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