Ralph Chesnauskas grew up in depression-era Brockton, Massachusetts. The youngest of six siblings to Lithuanian immigrants. His mother died when he was twelve, forcing the family to scrape by on the meager earnings his father made as a cobbler. The family was so poor that Ralph sometimes wore his sister’s shirts to school; buying new clothes was simply out of the question.
What money the family didn’t have, and the strained relationship he had with his older siblings, never held him back from succeeding in the classroom and as a sought-after athlete. What hardship he took from his upbringing made him into a self-made man who became the second most decorated athlete in West Point history, a distinguished executive at Gillette, committed philanthropist, and a loving husband and supportive father.
Chesnauskas died in January 2018. He was 83. His wife Patricia, of 61 years, and his only daughter, Holly, are honoring his life and legacy with a planned gift to the Gary Sinise Foundation Legacy Society.
“He was a very philanthropic man throughout his life,” Holly Chesnauskas said of her late father. “His two major focuses were animals and veterans.” A portion of the Chesnauskas estate in Cape Cod will also benefit the World Wildlife Fund and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
A 1956 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Chesnauskas served several years in Germany before returning home to Massachusetts to start what became a 38-year-career at Gillette. An engineer by trade, he and three others from Gillette hold the 1986 patent on the multi-blade disposable razor.
Holly doesn’t remember how she first learned about the Gary Sinise Foundation. In the past, her father routinely donated to another veteran support organization. But in 2015, after researching the nascent charity founded only four years earlier, she soon began donating and following the foundation more closely.
While Chesnauskas’ service in the Army was short, he remained committed to supporting veteran charities (and animal charities) throughout his life. “The men and women who serve in the military in this country tend to be not appreciated, lots of times forgotten,” Holly said of her and her father’s sentiment. “And then, of course, we have the Vietnam era, and they came back and were treated disgracefully.”
“My dad was always very aware of that, so it was always very important to him.”
She and her mother, Patricia, see their contribution to the foundation benefiting severely injured veterans through the Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment (R.I.S.E.) program. Mental health, too, particularly with the ongoing suicide epidemic in the military, is an area, both said, where the need is great. “The very best we can do for them,” Patricia Chesnauskas said, “They deserve it — every penny of it.”
In 2009, the U.S. Military Academy inducted Chesnauskas into the Army Sports Hall of Fame. The occasion marked the last time he would step foot on the storied campus founded over two centuries ago. This fall, Holly and her mother plan to intern his ashes at West Point, his “home away from home.”
For the soft-spoken man he was, whose humble beginnings didn't obscure future achievement, Chesnauskas long felt that those who served in the military were an underserved population, Holly explained. Today, three years since his death, his legacy takes on new significance in the planned gift made by his wife, Patricia, and daughter, Holly to the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“I’ve never met Gary [Sinise], but something inside me from hearing what I hear, reading what I read in newsletters and things like that, I think his heart is in the right place, and I trust my dad’s legacy with him.”
Written by Brandon Black