Ralph passed away in his sleep on October 2, 2017 at his longtime Federal Way home. Attending him through his recent illness and at the end was his wife of 66 Years, Patricia Ruth Erwin (Pat). Also present through his illness and passing were his four children; daughters Leslie Louise Ytsma, Linda Lee Schmith, Laura Lorraine Osborn and son Charles Nathaniel Erwin. His memorial service will be held at 2pm on October 28th at Wayside United Church of Christ in Federal Way. In lieu of flowers, we encourage folks to remember Ralph with a donation to the Museum of Flight or the Federal Way Multi-Service Center, both charities Ralph supported in over the years.
Ralph was born August 23, 1925 in Reynolds, Indiana to Marjorie L. Erwin (Krintz) and Ralph Leslie Erwin, Sr. Ralph Erwin Sr. was a licensed pharmacist and the family moved often during the depression looking for work and finding it in such places as Chicago, Whitewood, Gary, Sweetwater, Big Spring, Yakima and Seattle. It was his second stay in Yakima when Ralph Jr. was 14 that Ralph Sr. was certified as a pharmacist in Washington State and they moved to Seattle’s Capitol Hill and went to work at the G. O. Guys drugstore.
Ralph attended Broadway High with the class of ‘42. His family later moved to Beacon Hill, but because Ralph had never attended a school up to this point for more than one year, he remained at Broadway walking the extra distance each day. The War started December 7, 1941 during his senior year and the internment of Japanese Americans began in early 1942. Ralph always said that 1/3 of his high school class disappeared overnight including his friend Setsuro Yamashita who later joined the 442nd and died in Italy defending the freedom he was denied in high school.
Ralph graduated in June 1942 at 16 from Broadway High. He was accepted to the University of Washington, but instead went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad waiting for his 18th birthday and his induction into The War. When his notice came in December, 1942, this young man who had worked on the railroad for 18 months, stood in line with high school draftees and was asked by a Marine Sergeant if he wanted to be a Marine. Ralph pointed to his eyeglasses, but a quick finger check by the Sergeant and he was told no problem. (And it was true as he broke his glasses on deployment and spent most of the war without them.)
Despite his moving around the US, Ralph tested well and was assigned to Marine Corps Aviation and sent to radar school in Chicago. His first and only deployment during hostilities was to Okinawa, but later he was assigned to the occupation forces in Japan near the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal. Because of his years in Seattle and at Broadway High, Japan was not unfamiliar to Ralph and he spent his free time visiting the people and local sites. His most fond memories were of his visits to the Great Budda of Kamakura where he brought oranges to the elderly caretaker and the girls who helped maintain the famous statue.
Sergeant Ralph L Erwin Jr. was honorably discharged on June 27 1946. He returned to his parent’s home in Seattle and registered at the University of Washington for the Fall of 1946. Meanwhile, stopping in at Erwin’s Pharmacy in West Seattle, Patricia Bemis now met the marine who matched the photo on the wall. She was only 15 and Ralph, 21, said he could not go out with her until she turned 16.
Ralph studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington and dated Patricia until they became engaged in May 1951 and then married August 31, 1951 on a Friday so they could get that extra Labor Day of vacation for their honeymoon to Yellowstone National Park. This began a passion for Yellowstone that turned into almost yearly visits in their later years.
His first job in 1950 was for PhilcoCorp at Edwards AFB and then later McChord; Ralph and Pat purchased their first home in Lakewood Washington near the base. Ralph later went to work for Boeing where he built a career working on the B-52, early designs for AWAC, and air traffic control systems. He retired in 1990 from a 38 year career with Boeing that allowed him to send his four children to college.
Beyond work, Ralph was a hunter, a fly fisherman, worked on his own cars and was active in model railroading. As an avid hunter of deer and elk in Washington State, he spent time at places like Ravens Roost,Tiffany Lake and Elbe Washington. He preferred places where he would meet fewer hunters in his quiet treks in the rain and early snow. This meant fewer trophies, but those he got are proudly displayed in in the front hall of the home he built in 1959 in Federal Way. He only gave up hunting in his 70s when he worried he could no longer quarter and pack out his game without help.
If Ralph was going someplace, he was taking his fly rod. The family road trip to Alaska in the 1964 meant all sorts of river fishing for grayling including a day trip in a float plane. He also did yearly trips to the Pot Holes and Curlew Lake in Eastern Washington and fishing off the jetty at Long Beach Washington. Later his yearly trips to Yellowstone meant fishing off the banks of Yellowstone Lake.
From his time working the rail yards between high school and war, he found a love for the railroads. His favorite was Union Pacific and he was a Lionel and later an MTH collector. Often on their summer vacations, he and Pat would drive along and find places to stop and watch a train pull a grade or make a famous rail yard one of their destinations.
Travel was the other aspect of Ralph and his life with Pat and their kids. Yearly trips to Long Beach and Curlew Lake, every other year they did longer family vacations to a National Park or similar destination. In the 1960’s they drove to Alaska and twice did west coast tree tours visiting all the places’ that had different tree types; bringing back samples in coffee cans and in photos from which Pat later gave “Tree Talks” at the local schools. The family visited the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains before it was made a national monument. They avoided big cities when possible; first Car Camping, then their 16’ Aristocrat and later their 18’ Prowler took the family across the country more than once and to almost every National Park west of the Rockies and a few east. Another favorite place was Whitewood, South Dakota where he had the best memories from his childhood.
Ralph went through kidney failure when he was 75, but good medical coverage by both him and his son allowed a transplant and a 4th Act to begin. Initially rejected for a transplant, Pat was a tyrant with his diet and after 6 months on dialysis he qualified and was a match for his son Charles. October 16, 2001 found them side by side on tables at the University of Washington Hospital where Ralph got a third kidney and Charles got out of dishes for life. For the next 16 years he watched his diet, took a regiment of anti-rejection pills and was the model of what good health care can do to extend and improve a person’s life.
Ralph’s 4th Act, from 75 to 92, included three visits to the NASCAR races in Las Vegas; a sport he had watched on TV, but never in person. He expanded his house in Federal Way to allow them to live there with greater ease and continued their vacations and car trips across the West. In August of this year he was placed on In-Home Hospice where he was taken care of by family and visited by friends. In his last days the visits included his nephew James and wife Mary and his minister Rev Brigitta Remole. Early in the morning of October 2nd, he passed peacefully in his sleep and was mourned by all those he left behind.
Ralph is survived by his wife Patricia Ruth Erwin his children; Leslie Louise Ytsma, Linda Lee Schmith, Laura Lorraine Osborn and son Charles Nathaniel Erwin his grandchildren Nicole Volkhardt, Karlee Renninger, Alex Ytsma, Willem Ytsma, Benjamin Ytsma and Dylan Osborn and his great-grandchildren DJ Volkhardt and Camilla Volkhardt. He was aware that a great-grandson is expected in 2018 from Karlee and Matt Renninger.
His favorite painting was Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop, his favorite actor was John Wayne, and his favorite car was a Ford. He was a Bob Dole Republican who voted for a lot of Democrats. He loved trees, native plants and Douglas Fir squirrels. He was an honorable man who was a role model for his children and grandchildren. He was not perfect, but he loved much and was much loved.