President Rob Huntington shared this announcement and his personal reflections about the passing earlier this week of Rev. Dr. Ralph Quellhorst.
June 26, 2020
The Heidelberg community, the United Church of Christ community and indeed the world has lost a giant of a human being, a loyal alumnus and the ultimate servant leader with the passing of the Rev. Dr. Ralph Quellhorst, ’59, on Tuesday, June 23rd. As many know, Rev. Quellhorst had lived with the limitations of Parkinson’s disease for 18 years with grace, dignity, and humor. It never diminished his love of the church, his family, and his alma mater.
Ralph Clarence Raymond Quellhorst was born and raised in New Bremen, Ohio. He enrolled at Heidelberg College in the fall of 1955. The story goes that on a memorable day back in 1956, Ralph asked a pretty Heidelberg freshman, Sue Beggs, ’60, to take a walk. The two of them walked together harmoniously for nearly 60 years before Sue’s passing in 2014. Their three daughters, twins Mindy Quellhorst, ’83, and Cindy Bowser, ’83, and her husband Harry, ’82, and Pam Quellhorst, ’87, and grandsons Brad Bowser, ’09, Rob Bowser, ’12, and AJ Lacefield, ’15, represent the most recent generation of the Castanien-Quellhorst legacy family that spans 16 decades of ‘Berg alumni – one of the longest and most impressive family trees in our history.
After his graduation from Heidelberg in 1959 with his Bachelor’s Degree in Speech, Rev. Quellhorst also earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Divinity, a Master’s of Divinity Degree and his Doctor of Ministry Degree, all from Eden Theological Seminary. Rev. Quellhorst was ordained a minister in the United Church of Christ in 1962, serving the UCC in many leadership capacities throughout his career, beginning as a pastor in Bluffton, Ohio and holding many administrative positions in conference and national offices. His UCC career culminated with his outstanding service as Ohio Conference Minister and Executive, from 1993-2003, when he retired. He had a long association with the United Church Homes, serving on its board. Along with Sue, Rev. Quellhorst was been honored numerous times by the UCC, various benevolent ministries, and world service organizations. He completed teaching assignments at Eden Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary and Ohio Northern University earlier in his career. At the time of his passing, he was a member of Trinity UCC and Chapel Hill Community, a United Church Home.
Rev. Quellhorst became a member the Heidelberg Board of Trustees in 1979. At the time of his retirement from the Heidelberg Board in 2016, Rev. Quellhorst was the longest-serving Trustee with a distinguished tenure of 37 years. We believe that Ralph was the second longest serving Trustee in our institution’s history. I had the honor and privilege of working with him for the last seven years of his board service.
From the moment that I met Rev. Quellhorst on the presidential search committee in the fall of 2008, his life became a blessing on my life. I always felt more support, more confidence, more determination, more joy, more gratitude, more justice, and more love in Ralph’s presence. I suspect that he had this same effect on hundreds, perhaps even on thousands, of others too. I still have the first email that Ralph sent to me on July 20, 2009, only three weeks after my official start. He was thanking me for the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I had sent him with a note: “Thanks for the gifts you sent me recently and also your greeting. I tried the coffee and it is really quite good, and that coming from a strong Starbucks guy.” That was the moment that Ralph taught me to forgive Starbucks drinkers! And then Ralph signed off much like he always would over the years that followed: “Glad you are on board.” That was one of his blessings.
As I look across my desk now covered with Rev. Ralph Quellhorst correspondences and events, I pause in moments of happiness and sadness. Ralph’s essay response to my strategic question “Why Heidelberg?” that I posed to the Board in June 2011. The program “In Celebration 50 Years of Ministry Rev Ralph Quellhorst” at St John’s Church in June 2012. The annual Quellhorst Family Merry Christmas poster cards with great expressions and wonderful photos. The program “Celebration of Life for Sue Quellhorst” at Trinity United Church of Christ in March 2014. The “Gratitude” TED Talk by Louie Schwartzberg that Ralph forwarded in April 2014 (which I just watched again). The fraudulent “Urgent!!!” email from a fake “Ralph C. Quellhorst” asking for “$2,150 USD” to pay for a cousin’s kidney transplant in the Ukraine in April 2014 (which did not fool Ralph or anyone). And the shorter notes that Ralph sent even when he lost his voice and could barely type.
In the ultimate expression of awe, admiration and affection for Ralph, his Trustee colleagues surprised him at his board retirement in June 2016 by providing significant funding for the creation of the Sue and Ralph Quellhorst Endowment for Student Community Service. In Ralph’s spirit and image, the endowment has had a major impact in encouraging a stronger culture of service on Heidelberg’s campus. Beginning in 2018, the Office of Civic Engagement has utilized funds from the endowment to develop the leadership skills of Heidelberg students in various programming, education and outreach initiatives that align with our mission to be a university that prepares students to be global citizens who think critically and serve thoughtfully – just as Ralph and Sue did throughout their lives. We have been able to think creatively about how we uplift service and emphasize civic engagement. I believe this legacy would be a source of great pride for both Ralph and Sue.
The Quellhorsts are members of the Heidelberg Heritage Society. They were previously honored with the Alumni Service Award in 2002 and the Legacy Family Award in 2004. It was my great privilege to surprise Ralph with the Trustee Service Award in 2010. I gave him a Heidelberg cane that Mindy says stayed with him to the end.
The family will have a private graveside service on July 9 and will hold a more extensive celebration of Rev. Quellhorst’s life when larger groups are safe to gather. Memorial contributions can be designated to Heidelberg, Eden Theological Seminary, or United Church Homes. View the complete obituary here.
While we have a collective appreciation for Ralph’s joy of life and his legacy to make the world better, all of our hearts are heavy. At this time, please join me in extending our deepest sympathy to Cindy and Harry, Mindy and Jeff, Pam and Chris, and grandsons Brad, Rob, AJ and Andrew as they mourn the loss of their father, father-in-law, and grandfather.
Rest in peace, our dear friend. We already miss your calm, steady presence in our lives more than you could possibly know. You will remain deep in our hearts.
With enduring respect, gratitude, and love,