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The man behind the legend

Greenspring man receives Living Legend of Alexandria award

Created date

February 21st, 2012

This month, Al Grande, who lives at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., will be honored with a 2012 Living Legend of Alexandria award. The award honors those who have helped improve the quality of life in Alexandria, Va., that would not have existed without that person s vision and determination. Al will be honored for the impact he and his business, ASAP Printing and Mailing Co., had on the Alexandria community of Del Ray. Throughout his impressive career, Al garnered many distinctions and held numerous impressive positions both as a member of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the Potomac West Business Association. In 1996, on his 60th birthday, Al carried the Olympic Torch on its way to the Summer Games in Atlanta. Even now, as an active member of the Greenspring community, Al is doing his best to make his mark. Most notably, he is a resident ambassador, greeting prospective residents and sharing the many reasons why he is happy to call Greenspring home. He is also a member of the Greenspring Resident Advisory Council s Marketing and Publicity Committee. Born into a working-class Italian-American family, Al earned a degree in sociology from Bucknell University in 1958. As a member of the ROTC, he was one of only two graduating seniors to receive a prestigious Army commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Military Police Corps. He left almost immediately for officer training in Fort Benning, Ga. There, he met his wife, Claire. Al served 20 years of active duty, including three years at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, in Paris, France, and two years in Vietnam. Stationed in Vietnam in the final days before its collapse, Al made the courageous decision to sponsor a Vietnamese family who would leave Saigon on one of the last flights out of the country. The father was my Vietnamese counterpart, he says. He had the money and the connections to enable him to leave with his wife and five kids. Claire and I wanted to do our part to help them build a new life. The Vietnamese family stayed with Al, Claire, and their two children in their Alexandria home as they acclimated to life in a new country. I remember vividly a discussion we had on their first night in our home, says Al. The father was telling me how each of them had packed a bag with their most prized personal belongings. But when they boarded the plane to leave Saigon they were told to toss everything away. People, not possessions, were what mattered. It really makes you think.

New adventures

In 1978, Al retired from the military and inadvertently embarked on a new career. In an effort to help his trash collector accurately send out his bills, Al purchased an addressing machine he found listed in the Washington Post. It cost $125 delivered, says Al. There were no instructions on how to make it work, which is why it had been sold. Although I m not mechanical, I figured it out. And with that, a business was born. Al learned how to offset print, and less than two years later, he opened his own business, ASAP Printing and Mailing Co. I was fortunate, says Al. I did well from day one. It was 1980, and at that time printing and mailing was brand new. If you had a print job you had to go to a big commercial printer who knew there was little money to be made off a small job. I began asking customers, When do you need it? And I would deliver even if it meant staying up all night. I gave the service the other print shops would not. The business grew almost overnight. But Al did not rest on his laurels. Like always, he began to give back.

Reaching out

Looking for business support, Al reached out to students at nearby T.C. Williams High School. Hiring two students as full-time employees, he also permitted seniors in the school s printing program to have hands-on training experience with ASAP s presses and binding equipment. Al hired many of them after graduation. Supporting students was a cornerstone of Al s career. He continually donated extra cardstock and paper to the schools and spent two years as a volunteer at the Mount Vernon Community School s English-language reading program. Al also became a founding member of the Alexandria Police Foundation, created to support and care for former police dogs no longer able to work. Later this month, when he receives the 2012 Living Legends of Alexandria award, the entire Greenspring community will celebrate alongside him.