Remembering Renee

Celebration of life set for Thursday, at Veterans Memorial Field

by Nick Wognum
For many summers, Veterans Memorial Field was Renee Lassi’s second home.
So it only seems fitting that it’s at the ballpark where her family, friends and Ely’s baseball community will gather on Thursday to remember her.
The longtime manager of the ballpark concession stand passed away last fall, and her family will hold a celebration of life in conjunction with Thursday’s Junior and Senior Legion baseball games with Taconite.
An on-the-field ceremony will be held just prior to the 7:15 p.m. Senior Legion game, and the celebration will take place starting with the 5 p.m. Junior Legion game and will include photos, memory boards and an opportunity to visit with Lassi’s loved ones.
Lassi was famous, not only within Ely’s baseball circles but beyond, for her concession stand specialties - most notably pulled pork sandwiches.
In recognition, pulled pork sandwiches and nachos will be served during the celebration and $2 from each sandwich and nacho sale will be dedicated for a scholarship to be set up in Lassi’s memory.
Lassi, a 1969 Ely Memorial High School graduate, passed away in October and Covid-19 restrictions prevented a formal, public gathering.
But family members said then they would plan a summer event at the ballpark and Covid’s fade has allowed for a full celebration.
It was only natural, said Cory Lassi, Renee’s son and a former Ely baseball player and coach, for the gathering to take place at Veterans Memorial Field.
“That was her thing in the summer,” Cory remembered on Monday. “She lived there. She loved being there. Everything about the summer program she loved, and she loved being part of it. We feel that it’s a fitting way to celebrate her life.”
Lassi’s ties to Ely’s baseball program spanned decades.
She aided the late Matty Stukel in organizing events related to the 1980 American Legion World Series and took over the concession stand operation at the ballpark during the late-1990s, as Cory began to climb the ranks in Ely’s youth program.
By the time Ely hosted the 1999 Division II State Legion Tournament and the Central Plains Division II Regional the following year, the concession stand was “her baby.”
Lassi grilled thousands of burgers, tweaked and expanded the concession stand menu and took on numerous other tasks over a nearly 20-year timeframe.
As more and more games and tournaments were added to Ely’s summer docket, Lassi made sure the concession operation kept up and turned the stand into an attraction of its own.
“We like to joke that we have the best concession stand north of Target Field, and Renee started all of it and is responsible for what it has become,” said Tom Coombe, who helps to coordinate the summer baseball program and coaches Ely’s Legion team.
“We went from having a place where you might be able to get a hot dog and a can of pop to offering full meals. First it was burgers, and not long after Renee was pulling 40 pounds of pork every tournament weekend. We get comments just about every tournament weekend about our concession stand and I think in part teams come here not only to play baseball but to eat.”
Pulled pork has become a specialty in its own right at the ballpark, and Lassi led the way in adding it to the menu.
Cory Lassi said that pulled pork was a must for Thursday’s event.
“That seemed like her go-to specialty dish,” said Cory Lassi. “She was always finding ways to do special things with it. I remember going to the house or up to the field early in the morning and seeing her shredding that pork. It was her thing.”
Renee Lassi was more than simply the head of the baseball concession operation.
She played pivotal roles in organizing numerous major tournaments hosted by the Ely Baseball Association in the last two decades, including helping with selling advertisements for tournament booklets to beautifying the ballpark.
“It seemed like whenever we had a big tournament year, Renee came up with a new idea,” said Coombe. “I remember years where the Legion team would travel south for a weekend and there would be a few days when there would be no games at the ballpark. You’d think Renee would enjoy those days off but instead I remember coming back more than once to find out she had painted the dugouts, or the equipment shed, or the bleachers. She would put flowers up. She painted the bathrooms. Renee wanted people to have a memorable experience here and she treated the facility like it was her home.”
Lassi was a confidant to Ely players and coaches and developed numerous relationships visiting players, coaches and families.
“I think she just enjoyed being around people,” Cory remembered. “Not only the Ely kids who she had a great relationship with but even out of town teams. You look at the outpouring of love these kids showed. It shows she made a difference in lives in our community and in other communities. She loved being in a position where she could make a difference, and felt she could do so with this one.”
Lassi’s family hopes to continue making a difference by way of the scholarship being set up in her honor.
“She was so involved with student council and a bunch of different activities at the school,” Cory said. “I envision it going to an Ely graduate somebody who’s just really involved in the community.”
In addition to proceeds from the pulled pork sales on Thursday, donation jars will be set up at the celebration for the scholarship fund.
Coombe said the Ely Baseball Association will look to permanently honor Lassi with a plaque, including biographical information, that would be placed at the concession stand.
A memorial area will be set up at the ballpark Thursday and the event will include a ceremonial first pitch, including members of Lassi’s family, and memories that will be shared between innings over the public address system.
Lassi is survived by her husband Bob of 40 years; children Bobbi Lassi and Cory (Missy) Lassi; sisters Patti (Dickie Brooks) Zupancich, Cheryl (Roger) Hanson, and Michelle (Albert Stewart) Zupancich; sister-in-law Mary Zupancich; brothers in law Jim (Kathy Meier) Lassi and Dave (Doreen) Lassi; grandchildren Colton, Morgan, Clark, and Harper; nephews and nieces John (Jenny Al-Rashid) and Molly Zupancich, Craig (Tami) and Chris (Ele) Lassi, Rachel (Dan) Bailey and Brian (Kelly) Lassi and their families.