Great Falls MT | 6.07.13

June 7, 2013 was the date of my dad’s celebration of life. My father passed away at the age of 93. We had a private family gathering at the cemetery in Great Falls, MT, and in the afternoon our family hosted a tribute to our father followed by a reception. The crowd was large and it was nice for me and my siblings to see familiar faces, new faces, relatives from near and far, and faces we had not seen in many years. The GF Tribune’s online condolence page had over four dozen messages from friends, former athletes and students, relatives, acquaintances, coaches, etc. The Tribune takes those down after a month, but I saved/printed them. I’ve included a sampling at the bottom of the page. [Also, I posted a 10-minute slide show of photos of Ralph shown at my dad’s tribute on YouTube.]

Mark Reed, Headmaster, Charlotte Country Day School, Charlotte, NC
6/7/13 in Great Falls. One of the speakers for Ralph’s Tribute. Mark Reed, Headmaster, Charlotte Country Day School in Charlotte, NC

There were lots of laughs, some tears, much applause, and the day was incredible. I will let the images tell the story, but I’d like to summarize the speakers at the ceremony at the Great Falls High School fieldhouse – a fitting location for this event.

Jim Grant, a long-time friend of my dad’s did the eulogy. My brother Bill spoke, wearing an MCA polo shirt my dad gave him, with a Sky Pole resting on the podium; dad had given that pole vault pole to Billy in high school. Two former athletes and men who my dad would be proud to call sons, Scot Ferda and Mark Reed, spoke next about Ralph as a coach, mentor, role model, and friend. My nephew Kevin Nelson spoke about Ralph as a grandfather with humor and sincerity. I spoke about my dad’s sense of humor and the funny side of Ralph. My son, Jordan told the story of the best effort in sports my dad ever witnessed. “The Best Effort” was from Doug Nessan (GFHS ’72) who competed in the ’71 State Track Meet in the 800 yd run, diving sideways across the finish line as he was sandwiched between two runners.

Air Force Specialist standing guard over the graveside.
Air Force Specialist standing guard over the graveside.

Jordan concluded with some grateful memories of his relationship with his grandpa. Don Olsen, a good friend to my dad, and my dad’s choice as successor for the Executive Director position for the MCA, presided over the ceremony, as well as our private family gathering at the cemetery. 20130622-164240.jpgWe know our dad would be happy with our choices and planning…

As I said, the day was incredible. There are two slideshows below.

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The slideshow below has photos of our family get-togethers. We were all exhausted after the ceremony and the entire day, but Vicky’s boys Michael and Kevin wanted to grill burgers and brats for everyone, which was nice. We ended up having lots of fun and laughs, plus we opened cards that people had sent. There were many Ralph stories, and photos got passed around. We got lots of visiting in. The second night, Michael and his wife Becky, had all the family over to their house for dinner. That was also a good time. Jim, Karen’s son, had flown out that morning. My son had flown back to L.A. that afternoon, and Billy is not in all pix as he was really tired and left a little while before we got a second wind for more pix.

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From the Legacy online guestbook from the Great Falls Tribune:

Ralph was the epitome of the perfect gentleman. We know his love of dancing as he treated my wife to a few times around the dance floor at NOCAD meetings. He was as kind a man as we ever met. He will be missed, but his legacy will go on forever.   –SJ
Pure class. A man of great distinction and accomplishment. I never respected a coach more. — RL
Words can’t describe the impact Coach had on countless lives. He was a friend, mentor and support to so many. My life is better because he was a part of it…  –MR
Ralph was more than just a teacher and coach during my high school years. He was a second father who I respected immensely. He is the reason I became a teacher and track coach for the past 30 years…  –ST
… Ralph & Margaret were good friends of my parents, and he was my math teacher at Cascade High School. Not a wealthy man, but rich in everything that matters…  –SB
Uncle Ralph was an adventurous character. I remember him jumping off our roof, traversing about 15 feet, missing the electrical lines and descending another 12 feet, gracefully landing in the swimming pool. There was one word said… ‘WOW!!!”  –Thomas Kenny
You were a generous, loving, fun uncle and I will miss you a lot!!  –Sharon Rumley
What a guy, what a coach. He did so much for me and for so many others. I just smile when I think of him…  –JV 
I am so grateful for all the time we had with Uncle Ralph, which even included a visit to Edmonton! He was such an inspiration for us – a reminder that life can be lived and enjoyed to the fullest by caring about and helping others. — Leonard Swanson
 This is a wonderful tribute to a great man’s life. I will miss him dearly and I’m so grateful for the time we had together and the fact we lived close to one another these last few years. We had some fun times out on the golf course and at our many Thanksgiving dinners.   –Jordan Bowers

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