Ralph Rhea, 78, a longtime Baker City resident, died May 20, 2005, at Providence Hospital in Portland, from complications of acute pancreatitis.
Visitations will be today until 5 p.m. at Coles Funeral Home, 1950 Place St. There will be a vigil service at 7 p.m. today at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, First and Church streets.
Mass of Christian Burial will be at noon Friday at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. The Most Rev. Thomas J. Connolly and the Rev. Robert C. Irwin will concelebrate the Mass. Vault interment will be at Mount Hope Cemetery. Honor Guard will be by the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus. There will be a luncheon reception at the church Parish Hall after the graveside service.
Ralph was born at John Day on Nov. 6, 1926, to Ralph and Stella Keerins Rhea. He was a descendent of an earlier homestead family, the Keerins, who built a home and began a long ranching business.
The Rhea family originally came to colonial America, settling in Tennessee. Family members included a prominent congressman. A county in Tennessee bears the family name (Rhea County).
Raised in Grant County, Ralph spent much of his childhood at the family homestead at Izee. At the age of 15 he moved with his family to Baker City. He was a Baker High School graduate.
After high school, Ralph enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served in World War II and again in the Korean conflict.
He met Mary Frances Gibbons on the dance floor of the Covered Wagon Dance Hall outside Baker City in 1947. He proposed to Fran on Valentine’s Day 1948, and they were married on Sept. 4, 1948, at St. Francis Cathedral. They raised three children and were married 51 years until Fran’s death in 2001.
Ralph was employed by Pacific Northwest Bell from 1948 until 1982. He specialized in the installation of PBX systems.
He was instrumental in the building of the now-defunct Air Force Base on Beaver Mountain near Dooley Mountain and maintained the systems until the base closed. After his retirement from Pacific Northwest Bell, he opened his own telephone business, Rhea Communications, which ably served the many communities of Eastern Oregon. Much to the dismay of his loyal customers, he closed this business at the age of 73.
Ralph was a very generous individual who gave freely of his time and attention to his family, church and community. He cherished Eastern Oregon and enjoyed a good get-together with his many friends.
Ralph was well-known and treasured by everyone who took pleasure in his kindness, wit and warmth. Most of all, he was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and good friend.
Among his activities, he was a member of St. Francis de Sales Church and belonged to the Knights of Columbus Council where he served as financial secretary and grand knight. He was elected several times to be Oregon’s representative for the Knights of Columbus national convention.
Additionally, Ralph was a member of the Baker Elks Lodge, Telephone Pioneers, Communications Workers of American, AFL-CIO; Boy Scouts of America; the American Legion; the Veterans of Foreign Wars; and the Baker Jaycees.
Ralph was a graceful and noted athlete who enjoyed sports competition his entire life. He and Fran won many trophies for their dancing skills. Ralph was such a good dancer that every woman, no matter the skill level, could magically whirl around the dance floor.
Ralph will be sorely missed and warmly remembered.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Fran; daughter Mary Elizabeth; parents, Ralph and Stella; brother, Bill; and sister, Rosemary.
Survivors include three children, Julie and her companion, Arthur Redman, of Portland, Daniel of Washington, D.C., and Patrick and his wife, Alana, and their three children, Adam, Sydnie, and Samantha of Vancouver, Wash.; his sister, Theda Boyer of Baker City; sisters-in-law, Eileen LaFay of Eagle, Idaho, and Barbara Jean Gibbons of Boise; brother and sister-in-law, Joe and Nancy Gibbons of Salinas, Calif.; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Knight’s of Columbus local scholarship fund through Coles Funeral Home, 1950 Place St., Baker City, OR 97814.
Used with permission from: Baker City Herald, Baker City, Oregon, May 27, 2005
Transcribed by: Belva Ticknor