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Columnist
Senior volunteer is truly great gift for Benedictine
By William Carroll | Daily Herald Columnist

Ralph Fogarty

 

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Published: 4/4/2008 12:06 AM

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Sometimes we look for gifts under the Christmas tree. Sometimes we look for them in an Easter basket. Other times, we look for gifts on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

Sometimes, gifts are just down the hall.

Ralph M. Fogarty, 96 years young, is one such special gift.

Many people Ralph's age have long since given up a professional life or spending much time in public. Not Ralph. He is in good health, works crossword puzzles, drives his car, lives alone in a condominium in Naperville and admits to being "a pretty good cook."

In addition, he is always ready and able to give me advice -- advice to which I listen.

Since 1983, Ralph has driven himself to Benedictine University every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday to donate his time and energy from 8:15 to 11:30 a.m. in the Office of University Relations.

When he started, he had never used a computer. Today, he demonstrates his versatility by working on spreadsheets, entering rosters for athletic teams, data entry and checking mailing labels to remove duplicates.

Once he is shown what is needed and how to do it, Ralph completes the project.

Ralph credits his joy of volunteering to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."

In a kind of paraphrasing, he says, "Using your mind and volunteering is one of the better things retired people should think about."

He enjoys his time at Benedictine, for "it's like an extended family."

Ralph not only donates his time, but very often he donates money for specific projects. His favorite projects include athletics and athletic programs, textbooks and library books, the Memorial Walkway, the Margaret and Harold Moser Center donor wall, Fogarty family scholarships, Fogarty Trust, classrooms in Kindlon and Krasa Center, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast and various unrestricted gifts that can be used wherever needed.

His donations to Benedictine University through the years amount to more than $500,000.

Born in Wausau, Wis., in 1912, the middle of eight children, Ralph commemorates his parents with his work ethic. His father worked long hours to support his family. When the children were old enough, their mother taught them how to clean the house and cook meals.

After graduating high school, Ralph worked at The Travelers Insurance Company for $65 per month and attended night classes at DePaul University.

After obtaining the required credits, Ralph transferred to the John Marshall School of Law, taking night courses while working days to finance his education. While at John Marshall, he was elected vice president of his class and graduated in 1940.

Drafted into the Army in 1942, Ralph spent 12 weeks in basic training at Camp Roberts in California before he was sent to Fort Benning, Ga., where he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant. He was among the first airborne replacements to land in Normandy, France. Ralph not only earned a combat infantry badge, but also a Purple Heart.

He said that long after he left the service, the combat infantry badge was the only one he wore when in uniform because the men who earned the badge in World War II were the ones who "fought through tough times."

By 1944, the Army noted his law degree and transferred him to the Judge Advocate section of the 8th Corps. He participated in several court-martials, as well as the first criminal proceedings against German spies captured during the Battle of the Bulge.

By the end of the war, Ralph was Capt. Fogarty. He left active service in 1946 but remained in the reserves as a military law instructor. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1963.

Ralph seldom talks of World War II.

"War is a terrible experience," he said. "I served on the front lines, which was very difficult. Much of it was face-to-face combat. I saw some of the best actions of mankind and some of the worst. It was part of my life, but so were other experiences which I would rather remember."

Returning to civilian life, Ralph spent 37 years as an attorney with the Ohio Casualty Group, retiring in 1977.

Ralph has been a volunteer at Benedictine for 27 years. His son, James, was a 1971 graduate of Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University). James then taught at Benet Academy for 27 years.

Ralph and his wife, Lucille, had a wonderful 67 years of life together before she died four years ago of natural causes. They raised two sons -- the late Patrick, an athlete who died from leukemia at age 17, and James, who now lives in Minneapolis.

Ralph continues to be a very important member of the Benedictine community. He is truly a gift to us all.