Canton native Ronald Ramlo credits positive thinking for long, happy life
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 3:47 AM
At 99 years old, Canton native Ronald Ramlo has lived through 17 U.S. presidents and outlived all eight of his siblings.
At 99, Ron Ramlo of Mabel, formerly of Canton, has many memories of a happy and successful life. He spent many years working with the Civilian Conservation Corps and more building roads in the area. He served as mayor of Canton for 16 years.
(Bluff Country Reader photo by Lissa Blake)
A former mayor of Canton, he is the oldest living graduate of Canton High School.
When asked how he's kept going all these years, Ramlo said, "I've always considered myself a positive thinker."
As one visits with Ramlo, who now lives at Green Lea Manor in Mabel, it is evident that he is still as sharp as can be. Not only can he still recall the year, month and exact date of many of his life's events, in many cases, he can recall the day of the week.
A good start
Ramlo was born June 29, 1913, in rural Burr Oak Township, about two miles south of Canton. The son of Hallie Pauline (Hitchcock) and William Ramlo, he was one of nine children.
"One of my favorite early memories was of my pony, Chubby. He was half racehorse and half Shetland pony. I started riding him when I was about 7," he remembered.
Because there was no kindergarten, Ramlo went directly into first grade at seven. For his first year, the school was called Canton City School, after which it consolidated with seven country schools and became Canton Consolidated Schools.
Ramlo said, even as a small boy, he remembers enjoying hard work.
"I remember in 1923, they were building a new high school in Canton and my dad got the contract for hauling the brick from the railroad. He couldn't find anyone to drive his horses, so he had me do it," said Ramlo.
It was the summer before his third grade year, and Ramlo was just 9. He spent six weeks of that summer making 20 trips a day from the railroad station to the building site, driving a team of 1,900-pound Belgians.
"It was nice because when we started school it was a brand new school," he said.
Another time, he helped his dad fulfill his poll tax responsibilities, where farmers would donate three to six days a year fixing their own roads.
"So my dad was stuck again and I volunteered to drive his horses again. It was me and a whole bunch of guys and a whole bunch of horses," he said. "I guess as a kid, I didn't think a thing about it. It was just a thing you did."
By the time he got to high school, Ramlo decided he enjoyed mechanical drawing and drafting.
"But history was my favorite subject. I took a lot of history and ended up graduating with several more credits in history than I really needed," he said.
After graduating, Ramlo immediately started working for a paving crew that was paving Highway 52. His dad worked for the state highway department, so Ramlo had an in.
"I worked enough that first summer to pay my tuition for one year at Winona State. I took industrial arts and physical education. I really wanted to be a coach," he said.
But times were tough and Ramlo couldn't afford to continue on at college. He came home and worked for a couple of years doing odd jobs.
"You'd get quite a few day jobs back then, and you'd take whatever was available," he said.
He remembered one crazy week where he and a buddy had saved up a little money and decided to go to Chicago to the Worlds Fair.
"We hopped trains like bums do. And we didn't have any place to stay," he said.
They found a pit stop for city bus drivers and put their belongings in a couple of empty lockers.
"We slept in Lincoln Park and ate on 'freebees' at the fair," he said. "Hard to believe we were there for about 10 days."
It was 1933 and Ramlo was 20 years old.
The Minnesota District of the Civilian Conservation Corps had just been established as a result of the Emergency Conservation Work Act passed by Congress.
Applicants had to be U.S. Citizens between 17 and 23 years of age, unmarried, unemployed and physically and mentally competent.
In the tough economic times of the 1930s, it looked like a good option for someone like Ramlo.
So at 22, he volunteered.
"I remember I got notice to be in Rochester at 8 a.m. on the third day of January. There were 90 of us from all over southern Minnesota," he said.
Ramlo, who was among the oldest of the volunteers, said he and the others were just milling around, when he heard someone call his name.
"Before I knew it, they had put me in charge of these 90 guys. Many were younger than I," he said. "I asked them what I was supposed to do with them, and they told me just not to lose any of them."
As usual, Ramlo took his responsibility seriously, as he and his charges boarded the train for Merifield, Minn.
"You had to watch them. A lot of these guys had never been out of their town and they would get interested in something and stray away. But I didn't lose any of them" he said.
Life in camp
When Ramlo and company arrived at the camp, they received a "whole bunch of shots" and some work clothes.
"It was like you were doing an Army life, but not Army work. We lived just like the Army and wore Army clothes. The Army run it and you lived an Army life. You didn't have a rifle, that's the only difference. You had to stand reveille in the morning and raise the flag and march to breakfast," he said.
"The Army kept you, fed you, clothed you, medicated you and the Forest Service provided the work for you," he said.
Most of the work Ramlo and the group of 250 men did for the Forest Service involved cleaning up roadsides to prevent forest fires, removing trees that were rotting or falling apart and cleaning up creeks and rivers.
The men were divided into squads of 30 and they slept in barracks, which were 24 feet by 60 feet.
Ramlo said he started out receiving $30 a month, of which $25 was mailed home. A month later, he was promoted to assistant leader, making $36 a month. A couple of months later, he was promoted to leader, where he made $45 a month.
After he had been there for about a year and a half, Ramlo was moved to a camp near Brainerd that had gone on a food strike. (The men were refusing to work until they received better meals.)
Ramlo received another promotion, rising to the rank of Master Mess Sergeant.
"I bought the food, made the menus and worked with the kitchen managers. I ended the food strike and got them back to work," he said.
It was during his time in Brainerd that Ramlo met Phyllis Liversage, the girl he would marry, at a dance hall.
"I asked her to dance and we got along pretty good. She was a women's outerwear designer for a manufacturer in Brainerd," he said. "We dated a couple of years before we married. Back then you didn't dare get married until you had quite a bank roll."
He and Phyllis were married in 1939, the same year he returned home to work for his father's highway construction business.
The couple had two children, Donivee (Johnson) and Ronald Ramlo, Jr.
He and four of his brothers worked for his father.
"We built a bunch of the county roads south of here," he said.
When World War II came along just two years later, it was Ramlo's family occupation that prevented him from going.
"My number came up, but they looked at my profile. I was married and would be 31 on my next birthday. The guy said I was in a strategic occupation, road construction, and they sent me home to work," he said.
In the off-season when Ramlo wasn't working road construction, he sometimes went north to Brainerd, where his wife's family lived.
"I worked all winter operating heavy equipment in an iron mine, stripping the ore. I remember we had a couple of weeks where it was 55 below," he said.
Ramlo continued to work with his family business until 1968, outliving his father and brothers.
Sergeant at Arms
In the late 1960s, Ramlo received a senatorial appointment to be the Sergeant at Arms for the Minnesota State Legislature.
He spent Monday through Friday in the Twin Cities, overseeing around 30 pages.
"It's hard to explain how it works. But there are eight or 10 entrances to the Senate chambers and you have to police the doors, keeping out rebel rousers and all that kind of stuff. You had to be ready for whatever," he explained.
His other responsibility was to make sure all of the senators were in session during roll call bills.
"I remember we were once short a senator, so I had to go looking for him. He wasn't in St. Paul, and he wasn't at home. He was in northern Minnesota on a lake, fishing. So about 18 hours later he shows up," he said.
Ramlo spent most of his life in Canton, where he served as mayor for 16 years. Today, his daughter, Donivee, carries on that tradition.
When asked about his biggest heroes, Ramlo volunteered that Ronald Reagan was his favorite president.
"He took this country over after we had made it a mess. He cleaned it up with no struggle at all. He had a way about him that when he wanted something done and something done now, they did it," he said.
"He had a Congress that would work with him instead of against him. I was so disgusted with the New Deal, I had to go clear up to Reagan to find a president I liked. And you know I've been disgusted ever since," Ramlo added.
In summing up his philosophy on life, Ramlo added, "You can't stand still and have progress. And don't look back because there might be somebody gaining on you."
Ramlo's daughter-in-law, Marcia, said his two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren are extremely proud of him.
"He always set a great example for them. A positive attitude and 'Never give up.' It was a wonderful thing to hear from him," she said.