Grace Ragle has passed from this earthly life. A year ago last February, when she turned 95, she called and left a message on my phone, and I saved it, typing it into my desktop folder labeled with her name. "I got flowers, she said. "Oh, thank you. You don't know what that means. Everything's going fine for me."
She turned 96 on her next birthday, Feb. 22 of this year of 2019. I remember her telling me when interviewing her for a story, she never figured she would live to 90 and then 95. She joked that she was afraid she might make it to 100 and get a card from the President of the United States. She had a keen political mind and favored Democrats.
A day or so after she died at the Aurora hospital nursing home that had been her home the past few years, I visited by phone with her twin daughters, Cecilia Croteau and Christy Mesojedec. They told of Grace's last day, of how she talked and laughed with her girls and with granddaughter Celene and grandson Michael and the great-grandchildren. Her mind was still sharp, her wit as keen as ever.
And then she said, "I'm going home." She died peacefully in her chair.
I had written about Grace shortly after the death of her son Garry at age 66. "Grace Ragle, at age 95, is resilient... She resides at the White Community Nursing Home, Northern Pines, in Aurora, and someone gave her a wall plaque that reads Amazing Grace."
Grace was a North Dakota girl, born to Swedish immigrants William and Christina Fransen in Hazelton, N.D. She grew up on the family farm and had a thirst for seeing what was beyond North Dakota. First she went to the normal school to train teachers in Valley City. She and her fellow students "had gone to a movie, came back to the dormitory and everybody was crying. That’s when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and we all knew that our lives had changed," she said.
The next day the United States was at war and "everybody was gung-ho. Everybody sacrificed. You can’t imagine what it was like. You couldn’t get tires, shoes were rationed, tires were rationed, gas was rationed, sugar was rationed, coffee was rationed, tobacco, cigarettes."
Grace joined the Navy and would serve honorably. She remembered sending big Hershey bars and cigarettes home — 10 cents a pack and a carton for a dollar. She talked of when she met the man she would marry, Cecil Ragle, nicknamed Shorty. They traveled the country over, with his job as an electrical lineman. Eventually they settled in Lakeland south of Biwabik. And that's how my family, the Lampsas, got to know the Ragles, and we became lifelong friends.
Grace had a keen love of learning. "I like to learn stuff. I’m too snoopy. I always liked to read,” she told me. But that became increasingly more difficult, as macular degeneration affected her eyesight, so then she would listen to books on audiotape.
She told me about her father and how he inspired her. He had learned to read so that he could be confirmed in the Lutheran church and he would quote appropriate sayings. Grace had said, "It got me thinking about the church. I got myself confirmed on account of my father, the love I had for my father.”
Grace Ragle, you surely were loved. And you made the best coleslaw with pineapple this Lakeland girl ever tasted.