Ralph E. Kirch, age 85,of Richland, MI, passed away of heart problems on Friday, December 21, 2012 at Sun City Center, Florida.
As he neared the end of his life, he counseled family and friends not to be sad, as he had enjoyed a long and full life:
He was born April 29, 1927 to Ralph and Bessie (Miller) Kirch, Sr. in Kalamazoo, Ml. As a youngster, he persuaded his folks to move to a farm, and there he became a 4-H Club member. His favorite project was Belgian horses; his love of horses was lifelong and he joyfully rode horseback on a trail ride at a ranch in Cody, WY, with his wrangler granddaughter, Shannon, during his final summer.
Ralph enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday, in April of 1945, toward the end of WW II. He left immediately and missed his high school graduation ceremony at Plainwell High School. WW II ended that August; the aircraft carrier, USS Point Cruz, on which he served was used to transport some of the first U.S. Marines to Tokyo. Ralph's favorite tale from his Navy days was that during a typhoon on the sea, the ship's commander chose him to man the wheel through the storm, Ralph being a farm boy who "knew how to plow a straight furrow." Both Ralph's son, Jim and a grandson, Brandon later became Navy men. From his childhood days spending an annual summer month on the shore of Lake Michigan, through his Navy years at sea, through homes that were creekside, lakeside or seaside, and through his ownership and enjoyment of all manner of boats, wove the common thread of his love of water. This too was passed on to his progeny.
Ralph graduated from Michigan State University. His degree was in agriculture extension, and his dream was to be an extension agent. At MSU, he especially enjoyed his time on the livestock judging team. Betty, his wife of 65 years, attended MSU at the same time. They had met in high school, during a State 4-H Week there on campus.
Ralph was a lifelong MSU football and basketball fan, with season tickets for years. He celebrated his 85th birthday by having the MSU Spartan logo tattooed on his ankle. He explained that the reason he waited so long was he didn't want to be a bad influence on his young grandchildren.
One of the joys of his golden years was the fact that his grandson Kyle attended MSU and loved it as much as he had, and Ralph rarely missed an MSU lacrosse game that Kyle played. It was perfect that Kyle met his wife, Onica at MSU also.
Ralph went on to an outstanding career of 28 years with county, state and national 4-H programs and a total of 43 years of professional leadership in agriculture. A highlight was raising more than $30 million, as Director of Resources for the National 4-H Foundation, to complete a debt-free expansion of the National 4-H Center. He was also chair for 5 years of the 4-H National Report to the Nation which included an annual presentation to the U.S. President. Additional leadership roles included Executive Director of the Michigan 4-H Foundation, Michigan Department of Agriculture Administrator of the Expositions and Racing Division, and Executive Director of Private Industry volley Council for Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties. Career and life honors included National 4-H Fellow, Michigan State Alumni Award, MSU Distinguished Service Award, and induction into the National 4-H Hall of Fame. But he would also want you to know that he was responsible for bringing the Arabian horse pulling the green chariot, driven by a Spartan, charging up and down the sideline of the MSU football field, and that he had the Spartan green "S" painted on the water tower overlooking Gull Lake!
Ralph was known for his large group of wonderful friends collected from childhood on, with whom he and Betty were always in touch and active.
On the home front, two of his best friends were his last two dogs, Bitelee and Amber. Two of his favorite pasttimes were improving his house and landscape. Over the years he moved up and up in lot size until he owned a 140 acre farm, but no house or yard he owned was ever "done." He prided himself as an idea man and there were always new projects to improve the place. He himself planted and transplanted thousands of trees and shrubs, transforming his lands.
Though Ralph was a mega-fan of MSU teams, he was an even bigger fan of his kids and grandkids. He was on the sidelines for basketball, football, volleyball, soccer games and lacrosse games and cross country and track meets, in whatever state, wherever there was a "Kirch" on the jersey. He was even present when a granddaughter, Shauna won a leadership award at the University of Michigan, though of course he was wearing green! He was highly supportive of all their endeavors.
His was a long and full life!
He is survived by his wife, Betty J. (Shannon), whom he married on October 5, 1947 in Volinia, MI. Also surviving are his children, Deborah (Tom) Puhl of Portland, OR, Kent (Karen) Kirch of Newtown, CT and Ralph "Kirby" (Natalie) Kirch, III of Tigard, OR and daughter-in-law, Jane Kirch of Jacksonville, FL; 11 grandchildren: Jessica Reynolds, Jeremy Kirch, Shauna Rakshe, Tracy Puhl, Brandon Kirch, Casey Kirch, Kyle Kirch, Shannon Kirch, Eric Kirch, Andrea Kirch, and Aaron Kirch; by sister-in-laws Sherry Kirch of Reed City, MI, Gloria Kirch of Kalamazoo and Linda (Dr. John) Murphy of Sun City Center, FL and by numerous nieces and nephews. Ralph was preceded in death by his parents; son, James; granddaughter, Jocelyn Nicole Kirch; brothers, Richard Kirch and Jack Kirch and a sister, Maxine Sutton.
At the request of Ralph's family, friends will be received on Thursday, January 10, 2013 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Farley-Estes & Dowdle Funeral Home, Richland Chapel, 9170 East D Avenue (M-89). The Graveside Service to celebrate Ralph's life will be held on Friday, January 11th, 10:00 a.m. at Fort Custer National Cemetery, Augusta, MI with the U.S. Navy Honor Guard and the Fort Custer Honor Guard bestowing full, Military Honors. A Memorial Service will follow at 11:00 a.m. at the Gull Lake United Methodist Church, 8640 Gull Road, Richland, with Rev. Mona K. Joslyn, Pastor, officiating. Family and friends are invited to continue Ralph's life celebration with a time of fellowship and a luncheon immediately following the service in the Church's Social Hall. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Ralph's honor may be made to the Michigan 4-H Foundation, 240 Spartan Way, East Lansing, Ml 48824-6005 or Gull Lake United Methodist Church, 8640 Gull Rd., Richland, Ml 49083