By Janaia Hutzal
For Ponoka News
About 900 people gathered the Calnash Ag Event Centre on April 26, and another 200 joined via live stream, to celebrate the life of Nansen “Ralph” Ravnsborg Vold.
Known to most as Ralph, he is remembered as a devoted family man who led by example. He was a generous businessman whose legacy is sure to live on in the many lives he impacted along his 91-year-journey.
Ralph was the youngest of four boys. He was raised in the Ponoka area, but was born in an Edmonton hospital. His mother had the name Ruth picked out, until the girl she had been expecting turned out to be a baby boy.
Ralph, who was the third generation to be involved in the livestock industry in Canada, was known as a humble, yet confident man, who made good decisions – choices that led him to become the holder of many firsts.
He was the very first inductee of the Livestock Market Association Hall of Fame and is the reason cattle are still sold by the pound and not kilograms. According to the Ponoka Stampede Association, Ralph was a senator and a life-member for his four decades of service and was an “ongoing international promoter of the rugged sport of rodeo.”
Within the Ponoka Stampede, he was known as a rancher, steer rider and the owner of a herd of Brahma bulls.
Long-time friend Frank Mickey secured Ralph’s position on the Ponoka Stampede board in 1969. Mickey said Ralph will be very missed at this year’s Stampede, as well as in the Ponoka community, where he was known as a loyal supporter.
“He would do anything for you,” said Mickey of his comrade of almost 80 years.
Ralph was also the first to be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in four categories: rodeo, golf, baseball and hockey. In the early 1980s he opened Wolf Creek Golf Resort. He was a relief pitcher for the Edmonton Eskimos baseball team and pitched the final game in the Global World Series against Japan in Detroit, losing in extra innings.
As a young and gifted athlete, Ralph had a career in both hockey and baseball. He played defence for Crowsnest Pass Lions of the WHL and in 1952 for the Boston Olympics, which was the farm team of the Boston Bruins. That same year, when the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball training camp was about to begin, the Bruins were still in playoffs – and Ralph had yet to disclose he had contracts with both teams.
“He had to make a decision,” explained Ralph’s daughter Cathy Wiancko. She added that baseball was his favourite.
From 1952 to 1958, in the middle of the Vietnam war, Ralph was the closing pitcher (CL) for the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. He was part of the team when the Dodgers won their only World Series in 1955 in Brooklyn, before the club relocated to Los Angeles.
As a proud representative of Canada, Ralph competed with and against some of the most notable players in baseball history, including Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, until a new star came along and the team wanted to move him to Corpus Christi.
The couple had another decision to make.
“I told him if he really wanted to go, we will do it,” recalled Del (Dolores) Vold, Ralph’s wife, adding he was a “real softy” when it came to children and family.
Del said she always let her husband “do what he wanted,” knowing the decisions made would be based on their interminable trust and that she and the children would come first. Not to mention the fact that, although her husband may have been the pilot, she was the co-pilot – and the navigator.
After they “sat on it” for five days, Ralph and Del decided to move back home to Ponoka. Ralph joined forces with his brother Harry, which led to the beginning of Vold Jones & Vold Auction after partnering with Idris “Shorty” and Bill Jones.
“I wonder what would have happened if he would have went on (to Corpus Christi),” pondered Blair Vold, second eldest son, as he recalled the ice cream trucks and swimming pools they enjoyed as small children living south of the border.
Blair also worked in the livestock and auction industry alongside his father for most of his life, as did four generations before him. Ralph’s grandfather, Andrew Vold, moved his family from Oaks, North Dakota to the Ponoka district in 1896. He was involved in producing and selling cattle and horses and was an auctioneer. In 1903 Andrew was killed in an accident, leaving his oldest son Nansen (Ralph’s dad) as the man in charge.
Ralph and Del met during their high school years in Ponoka. Del said although they were the same age, she was a grade ahead when he came to take Grade 10.
“He kind of missed a grade in between,” Del said with a smile, unable to remember who asked out who first.
Blair remembered his dad saying the teachers weren’t very nice to him, so his mom took him to three different schools. Ralph attended Asker, Waterglen and Calumet.
“I don’t think he liked school much,” Blair said with a laugh.
Yet, Ralph demonstrated he was a constant learner, as well as teacher and mentor himself in many ways. He proved that just because traditional schooling was not his forte, success was.
The couple moved into a little farmhouse across from Ponoka Industrial (Labrie Field) Airport. Labrie was Del’s maiden name, which made becoming a pilot in 1962 an obvious choice for a man with a desire to get things done in the timeliest manner. To Ralph time was always of the essence.
This was the same land and picturesque view he enjoyed from the ranch-style home the couple built and moved into in 1961, that Ralph was able to appreciate right up until his final days.
Ralph is survived by his wife of 67 years Dolores (Del), sons Ryan (Ellie) son Blair (Sheryl) daughters Lori, Cathy (Joe) Vicky (Duane), 15 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren. Ralph is predeceased by his parents Nansen and Kirsten, his father and mother in-law Hazel and Hector Labrie, three brothers Norman, Clifford and Harry, four sister in-laws Shirley, Elaine, Marion and Eileen, grandson Cooper and niece Janet.
His family describe him as a team player who did not believe in the word “can’t.” With his ability to make quick decisions, tremendous business sense, common sense, compassion and foresight, Ralph also became a team builder in every area of his life. He appreciated what others had to offer and always strove to give back more in return.
To his children he was “everything.” He was a fearless leader and unending support. He spoke his truth, but had an ability to remain calm in the most stressful situations. With him, they always knew they were safe. They said their dad never held a grudge and there was never a need for him to be vindictive because, if he was fooled once, it never happened a second time.
“The lesson was learned and he moved on,” described son-in-law Duane Robinson.
“I’ve known him all my life,” said Del, adding they were each other’s best friend.
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