Ralph Howard Smith, 93 dies

Ralph Howard Smith, 93, went to his heavenly home on November 24, 2017, in Wilmington NC. Ralph was born in Plainfield, IL, to Reva Davis Smith and Ralph Howard Smith Sr. Ralph lived in Ely MN for over three decades before relocating with his wife, Mary, to Wilmington in 2014 to be close to family.
Ralph was predeceased by his daughter Eleanor, in 2017, one brother, three sisters, two step brothers three step sisters and two wives.
Ralph is survived by his wife, Mary Wachter-Smith, son Dale (Debbie) Smith of Conway AK, daughter Kathleen (Virgil) Norris of Sunrise Beach, MO and son-in-law Robert Pedersen of Joliet IL. Also, step daughters, Janet (Bruce) Kavanaugh of Wilmington, Barbara (Gary) Rothe of Springfield NH, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
His family moved to Joliet, IL in the early 1930s. Ralph graduated from Joliet Central High School and he immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in World War II. He spent time at several Army bases, trained in the Signal Corp and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant when he was just 21. Briefly, he returned to Joliet to marry his high school sweetheart, Phyllis Toovey. His first child, Kathy, was born while Ralph and Phyllis were on base in NJ as he completed his OTC schooling. While he was still with the Army, he was invited to play quarterback with Oregon State. As the war was ending, Ralph was training his company for the invasion of Japan. After the end of the war, because of how essential Ralph’s leadership skills had become, he remained in service for an additional six months. At the war’s end, Ralph was invited again to play quarterback for Oregon State, but decided to return home.
Upon Ralph’s return to civilian life, he was employed at a Montgomery Ward’s store in Joliet and became head of the Service Department. Dale and Eleanor were born in Joliet. He began planning, with friend and partner Sherman Smith, to build the Community TV and Appliance Store on Ruby Street in Joliet. Ralph owned and managed the store for nearly 30 years. Ralph enjoyed being involved with local politics and helped to elect Norman Keck as mayor of Joliet. During the 1980s, the family began vacationing in Ely MN, at the invitation of Joliet neighbor and friend, Bob Cary. Bob and Ralph continued their friendship in Ely and he helped Bob develop Canadian Border Outfitters. In 1983, after retiring, he and Phyllis built their home on the shores of Jasper Lake. Ralph was a longtime member of the First Presbyterian Church of Ely for 30 years, serving as Elder. Phyllis enjoyed life in Ely with the family until she died in 1992. Several years later Ralph married Theresa Hinkernell from VT. Theresa died in 2002.
During the 1960s, in Joliet, Ralph and Phyllis were two of the original 63 Charter members who helped plan and build Westminster Presbyterian Church, where he served as an Elder. Good friends Ken and Mary Wachter were also Charter members and the two couples remained friends for many years. Unknown at the time, the seeds of this friendship would grow into a late-in-life opportunity for love. Ralph reached out to Mary after Ken died in 2004, and that reconnection blossomed into marriage in July 2005.
Ralph enjoyed good food and didn’t need an occasion to say, “let’s go out to eat,” making frequent visits to his favorite, Grand Ely Lodge. Ralph never met a dessert he didn’t like. He was an avid fisherman, and enjoyed boating on Jasper Lake. Winter or summer, the lake was Ralph’s favorite place to be, enjoying a beautiful sunset and the Northern Lights. He was a quiet, gentle man with an unexpected dry wit and surprising smile. He will be missed.
He will be interred in Lincoln National Cemetery in Joliet.
Condolences to the family may be made at www.andrewsmortuary.com