Accent Stories

Ralph Tomassi


Class of 1977

Former Senior Associate Vice President for Development

Throughout its history, Ashland University has shaped leaders, thinkers, teachers and amazing people of all interests and talents. But there’s one person who truly embodies the spirit of this institution–Ralph Tomassi ’77.

If you ask a random cluster of Eagle alumni from the past four decades about the most influential people at the school, a majority will mention Tomassi as a mentor, friend, someone who has made a huge impact on their lives–or a combination of all three.

If his heart is made of gold, the blood that pumps through it is a shade of Ashland purple. But despite being a legend within the institution, Tomassi’s journey to Ashland almost didn’t happen. 

As a senior at the famed Milton Hershey School, the Scranton, Pennsylvania native had a scholarship for baseball at the University of West Virginia. One day, however, he decided to visit Ashland College with a friend after reading a story about the Eagle basketball team in Sports Illustrated. Little did he know that this visit would change the course of his life.

Tomassi arrived on campus in the spring of 1973, and it was the first of many opportunities that people at Ashland gave him. Their belief in him had a profound impact. After touring the campus, meeting with Guy Krueger from Admissions and coaches George Donges and Lou Markle, Tomassi knew that Ashland was where he wanted to be. With an athletic scholarship, student loans and work-study jobs, he could afford a private education.

Throughout his life, Tomassi has looked for every opportunity to pay it forward, and it has become a central part of his character and the way he sees the world.

“It’s like serendipity,” Tomassi says about another major event in his life. “It’s crazy how one thing leads to another, then another and you can trace it all back along an incredible path.”

He goes on to explain: After graduating with a BS in Early Childhood Education and a minor in psychology, Tomassi started teaching. And to his surprise, he didn’t enjoy it. “I wasn’t a great student to begin with,” Tomassi admits, laughing. “Then one day, we had a spelling bee, and I realized that all my sixth graders could outspell me. I wondered if I needed to find something else.” Tomassi approached his former professor and advisor, Dr. Marion Blue, for advice on potential graduate school opportunities.

“Dr. Blue mentioned that he knew someone at Bowling Green State University and said he would reach out,” Tomassi recalls. “But he also pointed out two problems. First, it was late August, which is usually too late to apply for graduate programs. And second, I had a 2.8 GPA. He mentioned that most places weren’t eager to offer graduate assistantships to students with a 2.8 GPA.”

But Dr. Blue made the call anyway. And as they say, the rest is history.

“Heidelberg College needed a resident assistant and an assistant baseball coach,” Tomassi explains. “And I could do both.” The experience he gained from this unexpected graduate assistant position in student personnel and admissions marked the beginning of his lifelong professional journey in higher education.

It was yet another seemingly random interaction that brought him back to Ashland, where he would hold various development and administrative roles until his retirement in 2016.

Tomassi tells the story: “While attending my best friend Jon Groza’s wedding, I happened to be seated at the same table as Dr. Glenn and Janet Clayton and Dr. Don and Jan Rinehart. By the end of the evening, they asked me if I would come interview at Ashland for an admissions position the following week. That interview led to what turned out to be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding 36-year employment at my alma mater.” It was a time, he says, “where I never dreaded Sunday nights and loved being a part of so many young people’s journeys. I don’t think I worked a day in 36 years that I couldn’t wait to get into the office.”

It’s a recurring theme: someone at Ashland believed in him. And since then, Tomassi has been seeking out ways to pay it forward.

From his days as a student on a baseball scholarship to his long-standing contributions as Senior Associate Vice President for Development, his story is deeply intertwined with Ashland University.

Giving back has always been a central thread in Tomassi’s narrative. Alongside his work for the university and his dedication to attending almost every football and baseball game, both home and away, over the past four decades, his legacy includes establishing the Gridiron Club in 2006 with Don Graham. This organization raises funds to support the Eagle football team. He even wrote a book in 2009, Go Eagles: The History of Ashland University Football, with proceeds going toward supporting the team. Tomassi’s commitment to Ashland spans over three decades, as he is dedicated to ensuring the university continues to fulfill its mission.

Even in retirement, he can’t seem to resist helping others. Since retiring from the university in 2016, Tomassi has been working part-time in a development role for Hospice of North Central Ohio in Ashland.

Tomassi’s commitment to “paying it forward” is more than just a philosophy; it’s a way of life. He firmly believes in reciprocity and support due to his own experiences of kindness and opportunity. “There are countless opportunities to pay it forward,” he says, knowing that investing in others is the true wealth one can accumulate over a lifetime.

“I made people engage with me. That’s what shaped me,” Tomassi reflects, emphasizing how proactive engagement has been crucial to his success. As he enjoys retirement with his wife Betty Jo (Slotterbeck) Tomassi ’78, his determination to uplift and support others remains strong.

Ralph Tomassi’s life story isn’t just about individual achievements; it’s a powerful example of the transformative change committed individuals can bring to their communities.

And he’s not shy about encouraging others to follow suit. His message to alumni and the broader Ashland family is clear: “Recognize the role Ashland has played in your life and contribute to the future of others,” he says. “Pay it forward, because the ripple effect of generosity knows no bounds.”

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