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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Ralph Peterson would agree that he was an extraordinary man to know and love. He was vibrant and expressive with a zest for life that was contagious to all who were near. Ralph was deeply devoted to his family, and he made sure everyone knew that he was married to the perfect wife. Throughout his life, he was guided by an unwavering faith, and it was easy to see the joy that radiated from the depths of his heart. An honorable man who served his country, those around him, and the Lord he loved, Ralph will be deeply missed.
Life during the decade that we recall as the Roaring Twenties was exciting. Radios, refrigerators, and motion pictures in both color and sound were all signs of the time. Those were prosperous days that were nestled between the end of WWI and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Amidst this exciting time was a time to celebrate in the lives of Fridolph “Fred” and Ruth (Rippy) Peterson as they announced the birth of the baby boy they named Ralph Carl on December 21, 1925, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father was a second generation Swede from Grand Rapids who worked as an electrician and industrial electrician. Ralph’s mother was from Plainwell and was a homemaker as well as one of the first women to graduate from Grand Rapids Business College. She used these skills to work as a secretary for the Bissell family. When he was just six weeks old, Ralph survived a case of whooping cough.
In many ways, Ralph was a young boy of his generation. He was one of three children in his family, and he was very close to his siblings, Stuart and Marcia. They were also very close to their cousins who lived next door to their home at 535 Knapp Avenue, NE, near the corner of Knapp and Plainfield Avenue. Among his neighbors, Ralph was fondly known as the Mayor of Knapp Street. Christmas was about family complete with a traditional Swedish smorgasbord with an appearance by Santa, also known as Ralph’s father. Ralph attended Aberdeen Elementary and Creston High school where he played the clarinet. He was very close with his school friends socially, and with his quick wit and sense of humor he was the life of the party. Ralph loved to drive fast cars at one speed and one speed only - fast! He also played baseball, golf, and enjoyed swimming as well as hunting with his father and English Setters. After graduating from high school, Ralph attended Grand Rapids Junior College electrician program. While growing up he attended Evangelical Covenant Church of Grand Rapids, and he remained a member there throughout his entire life.
As a young man, Ralph was eager to serve his country. He enlisted in the cadet program when he was 17, and was flying combat at 18. Ralph joined the Army Air Corps and completed his boot camp and his B-17 training in Kingman, Arizona. Ralph was then stationed in England as part of the “Mighty Eighth” 8th Air Force during WWII. While there, he flew over 30 missions as a ball turret gunner over Germany and German controlled targets. However, Ralph was most proud of his participation in humanitarian drops of food over the Netherlands and other food deprived civilian locations.
Ralph met his wife of 65 years, Bernice, through her brother Ken. At the time, Bernice was a hostess on the C & O railroad to Detroit and Chicago. Sparks flew right away, and they dated for six months before exchanging their vows on July 11, 1952, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids. The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon on Mackinac Island and then made their home in an upstairs apartment at 1491 Burke in Grand Rapids. Together they raised two children, James and Suzanne. Ralph supported his family an an electrician, an electrical contractor, and then in establishing his own business, Allied Electric, in 1969. In time, Ralph was thrilled to witness his family grow to include three grandchildren, Erika, Shelly, and Melissa. In more recent years, he was blessed with six great-grandchildren.
Throughout his life Ralph was one to keep busy. He and Bernice were members of Greenridge Country Club, which later became Egypt Valley Country Club, where they loved to play golf together and with many friends. They also enjoyed social dinners there. Ralph liked traveling including on memorable trips along Route 66 all the way to California in a 1960 pink Chrysler convertible. When they got to LA, they stayed with Ralph's cousin, Roger. They also took a trip to Clearwater, Florida, when they made the drive in a day and a half thanks to Ralph's lead foot! When their children were growing up, they all enjoyed family camps at Portage Lake Bible Camp in Onekama, Michigan. During their retirement years, they wintered in Palm Springs, California, for 30 years. Ralph volunteered for 15 years as a docent with the Palm Springs Air Museum, where he taught visitors about and gave tours through the B-17 and made many friends. They also loved golfing and going out to dinner with the Ludwigs and Haynes. Among Ralph’s favorite activities back home were going out for ice cream after Fricanos in Grand Haven, eating wet burritos at the Beltline Bar, and enjoying Swedish pancakes.
There was no one who met Ralph Peterson and was left unchanged. He loved his family, including his large extended family, without end, and his generosity was unmatched. Ralph was a man of faith whose life exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord he loved. Life will never be the same without Ralph here, but he leaves behind a timeless legacy that his loved ones will proudly carry on in his footsteps.
PETERSON, Ralph C., Grand Rapids, MI, Age 91, went home to his Heavenly Father on December 12, 2017. Ralph was born in Grand Rapids, December 21, 1925 to the late Fridolph and Ruth (Rippy) Peterson. He was a distinguished veteran of WW II and lifelong member of First Evangelical Covenant Church. Ralph established Allied Electric and was active in prison ministry visitations. On July 11, 1952, he married Bernice Johnson in Grand Rapids. His wife of 65 years survives, as do their son, James (Cheryl) Peterson of Ammon, ID; grandchildren, Erika (Chris) Irving, Shelly (Geoff) Carlson, & Melissa (Shawn) White; 6 great grandchildren; sister, Marcia Hansma of Grand Rapids; sister-in-law, Mernie Peterson of Grand Rapids; and many nieces and nephews. Ralph was preceded in death by his daughter, Suzanne Koster; brother, Stuart Peterson; and brother-in-law, Arthur Hansma. A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, December 20 at 11 AM at First Evangelical Covenant Church, 1933 Tremont Blvd NW. Friends may visit with his family on Tuesday from 2-5 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW and from 10-11 AM at the church. Interment is at Rosedale Memorial Park. Memorials may be made to Portage Lake Bible Camp. Please visit Ralph's web page to read more of his life story, leave a memory or condolence at www.lifestorynet.com.