“Huntington was very family friendly,” said Ralph. “I lived on a cul-de-sac with lots of friends. I remember building forts outdoors and riding bikes. It couldn’t get any better for a kid. I used to run with my dad at Walt Whitman High School. Sometimes he would take me for a milk shake afterwards. I recently went back for a visit and decided to relive some of those moments. I skipped the run and had a milk shake at the same place.”
Ralph has fond memories of Huntington with his sisters and his father Ralph Sr. and mother Betty.
“We came back from Jones Beach and one of my sisters locked the keys in the trunk,” laughed Ralph. “We had to take apart the back seat which exposed a small hole in the back. It was small enough for me to fit in. My dad was afraid to let me in there, but I felt like I could do it. I crawled in and retrieved the key. When my dad let me out of the trunk he scooped me up and kissed me on the cheek. I felt like Superman, like I saved the day.”
“My dad was a first responder for search and rescue Brooklyn,” said Ralph. “As part of his job he had to run to the top floor to check if anyone was trapped in the building before the water was put on the fire. At the time the fire department did not have breathing equipment so they had to stay as low as possible. One time there was a fire across the street in the middle of the night. My dad woke up and ran over to help. When he realized the car was on fire in the garage, he pulled it out while it was burning. He knew that the rest of the house would have caught on fire because of the gas if he hadn’t removed the car.”
While Ralph’s father was a hero, his mother was a saint.
“My mother is very giving,” smiled Ralph. “She’s a very special lady. She is very patient and loving and always believed the best about us even though most of the time it wasn’t true. She was one of those people who loved us no matter what. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and we thought ourselves to be poor. On my birthday I got some money to buy something for myself at the store. On the way to the store my mother stopped at someone else’s house and picked up their kids. It turns out that these children didn’t have a lot of money either and their mother had died. When we all arrived at the store to spend my birthday money, my mother told me that I was going to spend half of it on those children. I was not thrilled at the time, but when I saw how excited they were, I realized my mom was being a mom to them. She was always giving, even though we didn't have that much. I didn’t know then how much of an impact that experience would have on me now.”
After vacationing in Florida, Ralph’s family decided to make their last trip to Venice a permanent one. His mother worked at Venice hospital and eventually worked for Boca Grande Real Estate, Inc. while his father eventually retired and started building churches.
“My dad started building churches and parsonages for pastors as a charity,” Ralph explained. “He built the Community Life Center on 1904 Edgewater Drive in Port Charlotte. It’s the largest church in Charlotte County. I remember helping him build churches as a kid.”
Ralph graduated from high school in Venice and started working at Publix. With a love for mathematics, Ralph pursued a job in banking.
“I got a job with First Federal Savings and Loan and wanted to do everything there was to do in banking,” said Ralph. “I was head teller, a traveling teller, a loan officer and then moved to the checking department where I over saw the department. After four years, I decided it was time to see the world.”
Like father, like son: Ralph joined the Navy.
“My father had a great influence on my life’s decisions,” Ralph said. “He was a decorated soldier with several Distinguished Flying Cross medals, among many others. You can’t get those without seeing action. You have to fire and be fired upon. I moved to California and was with a fighter squadron that flew F14’s. I was involved in Operation Desert Storm. During the Persian Gulf assault I worked on the flight deck on the carrier and sent the airplanes off and made sure they were ready for their next mission once they came back in.
“It made me realize that freedom isn’t free.”
Four years later Ralph moved back to Florida, where he finished his degree in Aviation Management and found his way to Boca Grande.
“Mark Spurgeon, my brother-in-law, offered me a job as a handyman doing rough carpentry at Sea Oats in Boca Grande,” said Ralph. “I graduated from SIU and started working in Boca Grande. My dad had experience with construction so we worked together rebuilding the arbors and the deck.”
With a real estate license already under his belt and his banking experience, Ralph obtained a license in community association management and started multi-tasking as a bookkeeper.
“I became CAM licensed and started managing properties and home-owner association’s budgets,” explained Ralph. “I was responsible for the maintenance to make sure the properties were well taken care of in the owners’ absence and I started bookkeeping for Mark. I’ve had my real estate license since 1985. I always knew I would be in real estate. I just didn’t know when. I am still CAM licensed and still available for these services.”
Boca Grande became inevitable.
“Everything I ended up doing brought me back to Boca Grande,” said Ralph. “I like the community, the tropical atmosphere, and the people are genuine. I'm celebrating my 20th year with Boca Grande Real Estate, Inc. For over 10 years now, I've teamed up with Don Lutz. We are brokers and directors and serve our clients with a synergic approach combining sales, rentals and management. We believe that two can serve better than one.”
Most recent technology updates include a new website, bgre1.com, and a free iPhone application called Boca Grande Vacation.
Ralph is married to Julie, and lives in Port Charlotte. He has four children; Angela, Ali, Ralphie and Brooke.
“I am most proud of my family,” smiled Ralph. “My kids are great. Julie works in Sarasota as a physical therapist performing home visits for special needs children. It’s a very rewarding job.”
In 2000 Ralph’s world changed in a way that he could never have anticipated.
“My father passed way from prostate cancer. My perspective on life changed. I didn’t realize the amount of wisdom and integrity my dad had until he was gone. He was a great storyteller, and he told many courageous stories. When you heard each story, he explained it using his hands. It was mesmerizing. People came over just to hear his stories. We would videotape them, because they were that exciting. He was a strong guy who did these great things, but acted as if he was just retelling the facts.”
Despite his father’s courageous stories, his Post-It notes spoke louder than words.
“Silence can never be misquoted,” said Ralph. “That’s one of the messages on the notes my dad would hang on the fridge. He would communicate in a silent but profound way. He was a very spiritual man. He would write things he came across in the Bible, or on the radio. None of us would admit to reading them, but those would be the things that ran through our minds whenever we had problems.“I didn’t get a chance to thank my dad for the things that he taught me. I hope by sharing his stories and videos with my children that he will touch their lives as he did mine. Even though he isn’t here, he still lives on.”
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