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Thanks Ralph

Rick Halberg

As the nation continues mourning the death of Ronald Reagan, I read about the passing of another great man.

Everyone who grew up in the Minonk, Dana, Rutland, Wenona and Toluca areas during the 50s, 60s and 70s knew of Ralph Stenger. His life may seem simple by most standards. He ran a little grocery store with his wife in a small town. You could usually see Ralph in back behind the meat counter, and Lela in front at the cash register…and they were always glad to see you.

Ralph was everything a small town like Rutland needed, and still needs today. He was someone the community relied on for the staples of life, from bread and milk to fresh meat and produce, even hardware items and clothing. For older folks who couldn't travel out of town much, this was a goldmine in itself. But Ralph supplied more than that. He was always friendly, always helpful, and seemed like he truly cared about every patron who entered his store. Ralph was also very active in the community, through the fire department, the American Legion, and just about anything else Rutland asked of him.

That may not seem like a very exciting life, but it's a place in time that cannot be forgotten if we desire any sense of goodness and decency to remain in our lives. From a personal standpoint, every time I think of Ralph Stenger, I think about the days of my life that I can only describe as "utopian." I think of the old Rutland school where I attended first and part of second grade until my father was killed. I think of ice cream socials in the summertime, where you could pull a bottle of Toluca pop out of a big horse trough filled with ice and water, and the pop was so cold it would hurt your teeth. I think of playing at the park with Ralph and Lela's two sons, Mark and Jim. And I remember going to the store with them, where you could find probably every kind of candy or ice cream treat known to man. I can remember a main street in Rutland that was far from the deserted storefronts that exist there today. And I can remember Ralph Stenger at the center of it all.

The last time I saw him was about six years ago at a funeral luncheon in the new Rutland Amercian Legion building that he helped remodel. He was older, but he still had his unique sense of humor. Before leaving him, I told him he looked good. He replied, "Well thanks! If I had a nickel, I'd give it to you."

Thanks, Ralph. You've given me enough.