Sons of Wesley & Bessie: Ralph Hill Pearce

By
Larry Pearce, Ralph’s son
Written 7/9/01
Revised 2/2/02; 4/13/11; 2/2/12; 2/16/15

Ralph & Ruth Pearce family

Ralph Hill Pearce was my father, and we are each third sons. My dad’s father Wesley was also a third son, although there were some daughters mixed in his family before his birth. I’m not sure what this all means because I am not a strict advocate of The Birth Order Book, which implies that third sons are pretty well ignored. But, it seems that by the time we “thirds” come along, parenting has become “old hat.” Perhaps, one result of being a third son (or child) is that we tend to grow up independently, with minds of our own. We tend to be strong-willed and learn from experience rather than strict obedience and academic discipline. I think you’ll see some of these tendencies in the following tribute to my dad, and I believe that I’m uniquely qualified to present his story.

I’ve tried in these articles to build an interesting, if not convincing, case for the age of the Pearce men when they became parents [see earlier articles]. Great-great-grandfather Richard was in his 50s when Great-grandfather Charles was born (10 children), and Charles was in his 40s when Grandfather Wesley was born (10 children). Wesley was 41 when Ralph was born (4 children), and Dad was 31 when I was born (4 children) [In contrast, I was in my early 20s when my kids were born (2 children)]. As you can see, when the number of children in families decreases, for any variety of reasons, so does the age at which Pearces have their later children. Things may be changing now, however, as my off spring are in their late 30s and early 40s and are not married or even thinking about children. Again, factors of career and lifestyle always weigh heavily on these choices. I confess, as the family genealogist and one who was “in a hurry” to have children of his own, that I’m anxious to have grandchildren. Perhaps in a hundred years, as reproductive technology progresses, age will not be a factor at all for women or men [if there is a world in 100 years!]. Future genealogists and progenitors won’t need to be anxious about the “ticking clock” and leaving off-spring to inherit the earth.

Ralph was born on February 16, 1917, just prior to the end of World War I. Ironically [because the United States was at war with Germany], his name came from the German “radule,” which means “counsel wolf,” a symbol of power and wisdom from the animal kingdom [for an entire website devoted to this name see WWW.RALPHB.NET. There are other sites for Ralph: fragrances, a Ralph club, and even a supermarket called “Ralph’s.”]. Throughout his life, though, he’d been thought of more as a koala bear by his children because of his bushy eyebrows, combed back hair, and quiet disposition. But, the Pearce and Austen genealogy is loaded with other Ralphs, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:
Ralph Fogel (1905 – ? son of Malissa Austen),
Ralph Pearce (1906 – ? son of Harvey Pearce,
Ralph Smalley (1899 – ? son of Lily Austen),
Ralph Austen (1907 – ? son of Brady Austen), and
Ralph Garn (1888 – ? grandson of Charlotte Austen).

Ralph H. Pearce, 1935 Mars High School yearbook photo

Early photographs show a somewhat bashful young man with jet-black hair always combed straight back. Was the hair color a gift from the medieval French or ancient Roman DNA? Pictures show his high cheekbones as inherited from his father and grandfather, and his tanned complexion was definitely the result of loving and spending lots of time in the outdoors. By his late 20s and early 30s his hair was beginning to turn white, as that of earlier Pearce men. But, his short, stocky build (he was never taller than 5’ 6”) seemed to be passed down from this mother’s side. As he approached 85 years of age, he had lost the excess weight and was a bit stooped, as were his late older brothers. Otherwise, he was in excellent health. He occasionally boasted about never having been a patient in a hospital until after retirement. He was born at the family home, which is now the North Park administration building in Pine Township, Allegheny County. He was admitted to a hospital for the first time to have his gall bladder removed at age 60, and some twenty years later with his first bout of pneumonia. This was the disease that finally took his life on February 2, 2002. Remember that pneumonia had killed both of his grandparents, Charles and Permelia, within a span of four days in 1914. [See earlier article.] In less than a week my dad went from sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, eagerly eating his lunch and talking about the Super Bowl, to struggling to keep up with a ventilator in the Critical Care Unit. His heart was strong to the end, but the massive inflammation of his lungs quickly got ahead of any treatment the doctors could offer. His blood could not be naturally oxygenated to keep him alive, so the time came all too quickly to say goodbye. Dad had few, if any, human enemies in his lifetime, but the insidiousness of this dread disease took him as quickly as if he were part of some earlier time before modern medicine. We miss him greatly, and life will never be the same without him, but again, we want to remember the good times.

Dad always enjoyed getting out and traveling; he drove to the store, church, and medical appointments. Later, my sister, brother, and I drove him on trips to visit relatives in Somerset County, PA, Georgia, Virginia and Ohio. My late mother Ruth, who passed in 2005  at age 88, had been reluctant to drive in those days too. They had met nearly 65 years earlier on a blind date that had been arranged by a mutual friend. Mother was working in a small tearoom back then. Ruth Elizabeth Gray, the first of 12 children of Scotch-Irish parents who were also descendants of Western PA pioneers, was born June 8, 1917 in West Deer Township, Allegheny County. While Ralph graduated from Mars High School, Ruth was forced to leave school after the eighth grade to work to assist the large Gray family. In addition to food services, she was also employed in nursing facilities for the elderly during the Depression. An average date in those days would consist of borrowing the family car, putting a dollar’s worth of gas in the tank, going to Butler to a “show,” and stopping on the way home for 10 cents worth of ice cream and a soda. Ralph said, “A date didn’t usually cost more than a dollar or so at that time.” Ralph and Ruth dated for two years before being engaged for three months. [Read the story of Ralph proposing to Ruth in the previous North Park series.] The wedding was held December 26, 1938, at her grandparents’ church, East Union Presbyterian. She remembered the occasion as, “a quiet little wedding in the manse with a new veil and her mother’s wedding dress complete with long, white gloves.” Ralph was quick to point out that he “was never married.” It seems that the Rev. Howard Bruce, who officiated the service, continually referred to Ralph as “Harry.” “It’s been a long time, but legally we’re not married,” Ralph said. [The ceremony was re-enacted December 23, 1988, at Sharon Church for a large gathering of family and friends in celebration of their 50th anniversary. Witnesses say that the correct name was used at that time!] Ruth’s late sister Edna was the original maid of honor, and Ralph’s late brother Dale was the best man. The rest of the family, including parents and grandparents were back at her home, which was the custom in those days, preparing a diner celebration that consisted of roast turkey with all the trimmings. The new bride and groom drove to Butler after the ceremony for pictures. The wedding day started with sunshine but soon turned to rain and sleet, then snow. The happy couple ended the day in a ditch on the way back to Ralph’s home. While the pair eventually made it to their destination, the car stayed the night up to its axles until a neighbor pulled it free with a tractor the next day. Ruth said, “We just plain didn’t make the curve! We might have been a little bit close too, you know.” But, in summarizing their 63-year marriage she always used the word “happy.”

My father remembered growing up on the Pine Creek farm with “the companionship of the rest of the family. Families at that time were a lot closer-knit. On weekends we usually visited relatives.” He attended four or five elementary schools including the one-room Walters School on the hill overlooking the family mill and farm. He was transferred to Ingomar Elementary and got to ride in a Ford touring car in the time before busses. [See earlier article on North Park.] After the family moved to Mars in 1927, Ralph attended another one-room schoolhouse, the Gilbreath and then Mars High School.

Description of Ralph as a Senior, 1935 Mars High School yearbook

Ralph remembered never missing a day of school in 12 years. His favorite subject was math. Today he would probably study engineering, but in those days his mechanical talents went untested for several years because “there wasn’t money to go to college.” His first job off the farm was with the Butler County Road Department. He measured roadways and laid out stakes for welfare employees. In those days to get their checks they had to break 25 feet of stone per day on the road. In 1940 Ralph started with the North Pittsburgh Telephone Company, which still exists today as one of the first independent phone companies in the nation and part of Consolidated Communications. He started as a lineman and then installed phones. After that, he was trained to splice cable, a very important and difficult job that involved climbing poles, sitting under a tent in all kinds of weather, and working with molten lead and countless wires. He remembered the first pole he climbed along Route 910. That was the job that earned him an exemption for the World War II draft. After 17 years he was let go in a company restructuring. Then, with a son going off to college and three other children and a wife to provide for, he eagerly accepted temporary work with another area phone company until the position of building superintendent for Hagen Chemical and Controls came along. They made the world-famous Calgon bath powder, which was soon acquired by the conglomerate Merck, Inc. By the end of his 26-year career there he was in charge of a half-dozen buildings and dozens of employees and was trained in all phases of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC). The man who never went to college ended up with the equivalent of graduate degrees in mechanical engineering and human resources.

When asked why he didn’t stay on the farm or at least ask for property from his parents, he replied, “I just wasn’t interested. I wanted to get away.” But he never went very far. He and Ruth purchased an acre of ground along Route 8 near Cooperstown, about four miles from the family farm, in the late 40s. He said, “My mother and dad gave us $600.” They lived in the basement for 13 months while Ralph and his father-in-law built the story-and-a-half red brick dwelling. They had two children, Paul Wesley (1940 – named after both of his grandfathers) and Carl Dale (1942 – 2004) named after a great-uncle on Ralph’s mother’s side and Ralph’s younger brother), and one on the way, Larry Edsel (1948 – names that Ruth liked from her brothers Lawrence and Norman Edsel). Ellen Louise (1950 – also favorite names from Ruth’s family) was born after the house was completed.

I remember my mother as always being busy with housework: cooking, cleaning, canning, and washing. Dad went to work everyday and spent evenings and Saturdays in the garden. Besides the usual vegetables, we grew strawberries and raspberries. There were also the chicken and turkey coops full of birds that were sold from the end of summer until Thanksgiving. It was an exciting place to live, with plenty of woods and fields to roam nearby. How I remember the large family gatherings under the huge old oak tree in the side yard or under the carport in back! Ralph bought several additional acres to accommodate all his activities, but in 1960, with his change in jobs, he moved the family from the Mars area, north of Pittsburgh, to Moon, west of the city near the airport. His commute dropped from nearly an hour to less than 10 minutes. The split-level, four-bedroom house was brand new, and Dad always had the best-looking yard in the manor. Fortunately, he didn’t mind that all the kids in the neighborhood used our backyard for baseball, football, hide-and-seek, and every other game imaginable. We could walk to school and church and had all the amenities of a large suburban community. We continued to be active Presbyterians and attended the Sharon Community Church. Dad was a Mason, and Mom and Dad have held various offices at church including deacon, trustee, elder, and member of the cemetery committee. All these things, but especially Mom and Dad’s example as parents, contributed to a happy and contented childhood. Paul finished at Penn State, joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and after many years as a commercial pilot, he is now retired and lives near Charlottesville, VA with wife Cynthia. Carl joined the Navy and was a truck driver for over 35 years before his passing. [See “Eulogies”.] His wife Jean passed away in 2012. After completing degrees at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, I’ve enjoyed careers in broadcasting, financial services, music, and college teaching. My wife Susan and I have a small ranch in the mountains of Somerset County, PA. Ellen attended Bowling Green State University and Northwestern in preparation for a career as a physical therapist. She moved back home to care for her elderly parents after living in Florida and North Carolina. She now resides at The Villages in Florida. Mom and Dad and, of course, the rest of the family know that she brought quality to their final years.

Ralph & Ruth Pearce’s final resting place, Allegheny Co. Memorial Park, PA

My goal has been to record as much of Mom and Dad’s lives and memories as possible. They were truly are family treasures. I believe that they always considered their descendants to be the most important contribution they’d made to the world. This, then, is a complete list of them:

Paul Wesley (6/7/40) married Cynthia Ann Cordero
-Steven Paul (11/26/62) married Joan Hawkins (divorced)
—-Alexis Marie (11/1/92)
Remarried-Leslie Wilson
—-Paul Evan (5/23/03)
-Stuart Dean (11/21/63) married Beverly Brewer
—-Austin Brewer (8/11/92)
—-Mary Michelle (9/7/94) married Joshua Adams Baghdady
—-Jackson Dean (3/15/96)

Carl Dale (2/9/42 – 12/12/04) married Jean Marie Hathazy
-Diana Christine (3/12/63)
—-Jordan Marie (5/30/98)
-Kenneth James (7/15/64) married Nicole Kotchman
—-Taylor Sutton (1/19/89)
—-Logan James (10/15/92)
—-Nolan Ryan (5/22/00 -twin)
—-Garrett Anthony (5/22/00 -twin)

Larry Edsel (5/6/48) married Susan Kay Miller
-Annie Rebecca (4/29/71)
-Matthew Carter (4/18/73)

Ellen Louise (8/20/50)

See other “Sons of Wesley & Bessie”

Walter E. Pearce
Howard Pearce
Dale N. Pearce

4 Responses to Sons of Wesley & Bessie: Ralph Hill Pearce

  1. Tom Pearce says:

    Hey Larry, Very nice write up about your Dad. I remember his gentle manner and his wonderful sense of humor. He and my Dad, Dale were obviously close. Ralph was a great teaser. Particularly as a young boy, I remember sitting around our dinner table in Grove City enjoying a good laugh at whatever the topic of the day was. Ruth was always sweet and had a green thumb which made my mother, Helen marvel. She always seemed to have some “cuttings” on the window sill which she would share with mom. Thanks for this tribute to Ralph and to our family in general. Well done! T

    • admin says:

      Hi back, Tom! How nice of you to write. If it’s OK, I’ll put your comments at the bottom of Dad’s bio for all to see. Hard to believe that your dad has been gone 30 years. We surely miss him too. What a contribution he made to so many people’s lives.
      Regards,
      Larry

  2. Annie Pearce says:

    Great writeup, Dad! Although you may not have biological grandchildren yet, be assured that your father has been immortalized among all of my students (cognitive children) and his memory will live on every time they have to choose a dessert and ask for a “Ralph”.

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