Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ralph "Sonny" Arbitelle

I love feature and human-interest stories. (story below)

I just spent a couple of hours with a very interesting man -- Ralph "Sonny" Arbitelle. I honestly could have stayed there talking with him all day. He was so interesting. He is not only a former (38 years) professional illusionist (has been on Johnny Carson show and numerous other shows) and a member of the Academy of Magical Arts but he is also an artist, a member of the clergy, a published poet and writer and -- he believes strongly that one man can make a BIG difference. He's ready to prove it too.

Today is his 75th birthday and I can't believe I had the honor of spending the morning with him - interviewing him. I feel as if I were the one treated to a great birthday present.

Mr. Arbitelle will be riding cross country -- motorcycle -- to raise awareness and funds for the Susan G. Kommen Breast Cancer Foundation. He had such a wonderful outlook on life - so positive. You couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement of how he looks at life.

He leaves next week and will ride to Connecticut, down to Florida, across the panhandle and across the southwestern states back to California -- 7,500 miles in all. His journey will be made into a Discovery Channel documentary and the motorcycle he is raffling off along the way may be featured in "Deal or No Deal" on television.

When we were done with our interview, he surprised me by autographing two of his books and giving them to me - "The Bingo Farm" and "The Letter." I was so honored.

I am always amazed as to how many interesting people live right where I live -- whether artists, writers, musicians or athletes.

I love my job! And after my story on this man prints, I can come in and share it. But in the meantime, be forewarned - if you happen to hear of this man stopping by your town - go out and support him. He's amazing.


Esther Avila / Special To The Bee
Ralph "Sonny" Arbitelle, 75, will travel about 7,500 miles to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. The "Pink Lady"motorcycle will be raffled off after the ride.

Visalia man takes cancer fight across the country on motorcycle
By Esther Avila / Special To The Bee
07/27/07 04:44:32

Editor's note: This is an occasional feature in the South Valley Bee in which we profile members of our various communities. We hope readers will provide suggestions for possible profiles, and while we are at it, a name for the feature. Please send those suggestions to or call (559) 622-2420 or fax to (559) 733-1825.

VISALIA -- Believing one man can make a difference, Ralph "Sonny" Arbitelle said he is ready to prove it.

"I used to think one person could not make much of a difference. But I was wrong," Arbitelle said. "You don't have to live a long time to do something and leave a legacy."

Arbitelle, who turned 75 on Saturday, will be making a 7,500-mile round-trip motorcycle journey from California to Connecticut. He plans to raise significant funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer, while celebrating breast cancer survival and honoring those who have lost their battle to the disease.

Having lost his father, mother, sister, two aunts, an uncle and cousins, including one who was only 18 years old, to cancer, Arbitelle was still stunned when his daughter, Melanie Roth, developed breast cancer three years ago. After chemo and radiation, she was declared a survivor. But recently, Arbitelle said he learned her cancer had metastasized to her bones. Miraculously, it was ruled out. That is when Arbitelle said he remembered a promise he had made her.

"She was a fighter and I saw how tough it was for her," Arbitelle said. "I told her that one day I was going to get out there and do something."

Arbitelle said he intended on keeping his promise. After brainstorming ideas, he decided on a road trip. He purchased and donated a new 2007 Yamaha V Star 1300.

After dubbing the bike "Pink Lady" for its pink and white custom paint job by Darwin Ward, Arbitelle has been asking for a donation of $25 each per ticket, or five for $100. The bike, on display at D & E Yamaha, 1745 E. Mineral King in Visalia, will be raffled when he returns. And because of Arbitelle's professional connections, it may happen on television's "Deal or No Deal" reality show.

Arbitelle, a 38-year professional illusionist, author of numerous books, a poet and ordained minister, started planning his trip last March. He will leave Visalia on Tuesday and plans to return Aug. 31 or Sept. 1.

But that is just the beginning. Two cameras will be installed on Arbitelle's motorbike, and he has been collaborating with Brooks Wachtel, a writer and producer of the Discovery Channel, for a documentary on the road trip.

With the support of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the journey will begin in Visalia, with stops scheduled for Reno, Nev.; Salt Lake City; Davenport, Iowa; Louisville, Ky.; Cleveland; Scranton, Penn.; and Hartford, Conn. -- where Arbitelle has scheduled a few days of rest.

On the return trip, he will stop in New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Las Vegas before returning to California.

"I will limit my riding to an average of 310 miles a day, six hours a day -- with four layovers built in," said Arbitelle, who recently broke a couple of ribs during a fall. "Everyone has been so supportive."

Along the way, several bikers from each region will join him for some portions with the motto: "We will not give up, be turned back, nor stop riding hard until breast cancer is history."

Still, Arbitelle is also asking for the public's support, locally and on the road. All proceeds from the ride, excluding meals, gasoline and occasional paid shelter, will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.


Esther Avila / Special To The Bee
The "Pink Lady" motorcycle, above, on display at D & E Yamaha in Visalia, will be raffled, with proceeds going to fight breast cancer.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful man. Makes me wish he'd pass by me on the way to Florida. You do find interesting people to write about. I love your stories.

    Oh yes, I wanted to let you know you've been tagged.

  2. Thanks Joanne, Yes, he certainly is an interesting man. Story didn't run this last Friday like we had hoped, they held it because my editor had "too many stories" - so next week. At least she ran one of my local artist stories.