SALEM -- Ralph A. Witmer, 92, passed away Tuesday afternoon after one day of hospice care at Salem Community Hospital following a short illness. He fell ill at home on Friday, Aug. 16, on the 68th anniversary of his marriage to the former Doris Blosser.
Born June 12, 1927,at home in southern Beaver Township, Mahoning County, he was the son of Enos and Hannah (Wenger) Witmer. He graduated from Greenford High School in 1945, the first in his family’s history to complete high school.
Ralph worked on the family farm before taking over Witmer Implement Sales in 1951, a Minneapolis-Moline tractor sales and repair service established by his father on their home farm in 1937.He was a naturally enthusiastic salesman and astute businessman who would go on to establish customers who became his friends throughout the tri-state area and beyond.He expanded the sales and service business after it moved to its current site on Route 14 west of Columbiana to become a full-service farm equipment dealership.In 1969 he added Witmer Construction as a parallel business. It continues under family ownership.
In 1982 he and Raymond Horst and their wives were founders of Das Dutch Haus Restaurant.This remarkable partnership and special friendship eventually included their families. The restaurant grew from 60 to 450 seats over time as the development came to include a plaza with a variety of shops as well as the 52-room inn and event center now known as Best Western Plus Dutch Haus Inn and Suites--all on the same campus in Columbiana and all still owned by the partnership.
He loved to visit the restaurant, inn, and construction business office daily in recent years to query staff about the day’s successes and challenges. He enjoyed interacting with customers on their experience.
Ralph served locally on the boards of South Range Local Schools(from 1969 to 1985),the Ohio Farm and Power Association, the New Waterford Bank, and Harmony Village Inc. of Columbiana. He served nationally with the U.S. AGCO Dealers’ Council and Federated Insurance Advisory Board.
He and Doris were members of the Laurelville (Pa.) Mennonite Church Center Association. They were long-time supporters of Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Vir.) where their nine children and many of their grandchildren attended. They were stalwart fans of South Range athletics. Throughout the years Ralph could be seen at most home games and many away games for SRHS teams.
He led a cappella hymn singing for more than 50 years at Midway Mennonite Church, where he was a member. He taught the adult men’s Sunday School class and supported many projects. He was founding director of the congregation’s Mennonite Youth Fellowship chorus which toured out-of-state in its early years. He continued playing Sunday afternoon basketball at his home outdoor court with young people from Midway far longer than anyone expected after an active local career in church-league softball.He coached and sponsored Little League teams in Green and Beaver townships.He was a member of the Greenford Ruritan for many years, serving as its song leader.
From the ‘50s through the ‘70s he flew a single-engine Cessna airplane out of the Elser Airport of North Lima, giving many moments of enjoyment for afternoon pleasure rides and longer trips, getting family and friends where they needed to go.
He took up distance running when he was 50 years old. He competed in 17 marathons beginning at age 62, running the New York City Marathon 14 times, the final time when he was 78 years old.
He and Doris warmly welcomed international students, vocational interns from overseas, and refugees into their home and life, sometimes for several years. He cherished his trips to Europe, going with Doris on a People-to-People goodwill trip to the former Soviet Union in the mid-1960s. He often took agricultural business trips to Germany, touring family heritage sites in Switzerland and Germany, and visiting Gdansk,Poland, twice in recent years with family members to commemorate his service as a “Seagoing Cowboy” with other young area farmers in 1946.
Ralph took unending joy in welcoming new members to his family--spouses for his children, the grandchildren, and then great-grandchildren which have been born in many states and several foreign countries.He was interested in the lives of others and was known to strike up conversations with anyone he found himself with, regaling them with a nearly endless inventory of well-told stories.
He was passionate about his purple martins, growing roses, and counting his Concord grapes. He loved to host crowds of guests, sharing his enjoyment of the farm’s lake and pavilion for community events, church services, and family weddings.Throughout his life he delighted in outings with friends and family, particularly if they included a road trip.
In addition to Doris, his wife, whom he married Aug. 16, 1951, he leaves; seven daughters, Ellen (Greg) Bowman of Salem, Irene (Dusty) Rhodes of West Palm Beach, Fla., Miriam (Jay) Reesor of Markham, Ont., Canada, Grace (Alan) Styer of Salem, Sharon (John) Francomacaro of Castleton, Vir., Rachel (David) Martin of Akron, Pa., and Becky (Tom) O’Connor of Pittsford, N.Y; two sons, Nelson (Kris) of Salem and Wayne (Luisa) of Broadway, Vir.; 27 grandchildren along with their 11 spouses, 13 great-grandchildren, and dozens of nieces and nephews.
Also surviving are three brothers: Dan of Orrville; Jim (Rachel) of Alliance; Homer of St. Jacob’s, Ont.; four sisters, Stella of Stouffville, Ont.; Vesta (Ross) of Orrville; Esther of West Liberty, and Marjorie of Harrisonburg, Va.
He was preceded in death by his parents; an infant sister, Grace; three brothers, Elvin, Elmer, and Owen; and a grandson, Matthew Styer.
Calling hours will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at Greenford Christian Church, 11767 Lisbon Road, Greenford, 44422. Additional calling hours will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, one hour prior to the 3 p.m. funeral service at the church.
Memorial contributions may made in Ralph’s honor to the Ralph Witmer Memorial Fund at Midway Mennonite Church (13376 Columbiana-Canfield Road, Columbiana OH 44408) or to the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley at 962 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Youngstown Ohio 44510 or online at www.rescuemissionmv.org.
The Seederly-Mong & Beck Funeral Home in North Lima, Ohio has been entrusted with the arrangements.
Family and friends are invited to visit www.seederly-mongandbeck.com to sign the guestbook or send private condolences.
Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley
962 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Youngstown OH 44510
Ralph Witmer Memorial Fund at Midway Mennonite Church
13376 Columbiana-Canfield Road, Columbiana OH 44408