Off Beat: Autograph collector employed all the tricks of the trade

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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photoCollector Ron Zollo holds an autographed portrait of Frank Sinatra.

(/The Columbian)

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A connection to the sports industry can come in handy. At other times, what you really need is a thermos of hot coffee.

Those are just a couple of the things that have helped Ron Zollo get celebrity autographs.

After building his collection over the span of 40 years, the Vancouver man doesn't deal in face-to-face signings much any more.

However, "I've done it," said Zollo, who took part in a fundraiser Saturday at the Clark County Historical Museum.

One memorable "get" was Funkadelic singer George Clinton, who appeared in Portland in the 1990s.

"It was November, and it was cold," Zollo recalled. With a couple of Clinton albums in hand, Zollo headed for Portland and the old La Luna club.

The guy at the door told Zollo that Clinton wouldn't be available until after 2 a.m.

"I went home and got a thermos of hot coffee," and then returned to the club and waited around outside in the cold.

By 2 a.m., "It was me and one other guy," Zollo said.

When Clinton finally walked out of the club, he saw them and remarked, "You still here?" before signing Zollo's items.

As a baseball executive with Tacoma's team in the Pacific Coast League, Zollo had a chance to meet a lot of sports notables. But access didn't guarantee an autograph, he added.

When Reggie Jackson visited Tacoma, Zollo had a copy of a 1987 Sports Illustrated magazine with "Mr. October" on the cover, along with a promo for the cover story, "Reggie Speaks Out on Racism."

"He was ready to sign it, and I said I really liked the story."

Reggie paused, then pointedly asked Zollo: "And what was it about?"

"I told him it was about how he would like to manage" a baseball team, Zollo said, "and he signed it."

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.