DUNLAP — Ralph Hartnagel Jr. was active all his life and left a legacy of helping others pursue the same lifestyle.
At 68, Hartnagel and several family members climbed to the summit of Longs Peak in Colorado (elevation 14,255 feet) and came close at 72. He enjoyed hiking, biking, rollerblading and kayaking.
“He loved the challenges, if he was hiking in the mountains or playing sports,” says youngest son Jeff. “He was an awesome guy.”
Ralph was a snow skier, hockey player and a hard-nosed backyard football player well into his 70s.
“It was cool to have Grandpa at 74 and 75 out there competing with everyone,” says Ralph Hartnagel III, the oldest of Ralph and Shirley’s five children. “He loved the outdoors and he loved teaching kids.”
“He liked to play hard and have fun,” says second son Gary. “He did that his entire life. It was exhausting to keep up with him.”
The man who died last week at 76 is known for spending countless hours clearing the snow off outdoor ice rinks and preparing baseball fields, then lacing up his skates or grabbing his mitt to get involved in a game or practice.
If a neighborhood kid needed someone to play catch, Ralph was there.
A team in need of a batting practice pitcher could count on Ralph.
For years, Ralph was a coach and volunteer at Concord Little League.
“There was never any pressure,” says Gary. “He never compared anyone and he never had a cross word.”
Ralph pitched BP for Concord High coach Glenn Swanson’s teams and Ball State University coach Bob Rickel’s clubs (sons Ralph III, Gary and Jeff played baseball at Ball State).
Swanson and Rickel were both there to pay their respects at Ralph’s viewing.
“Sports was a vehicle he used to teach us in the family and neighborhood kids about life lessons,” says Ralph III. “Some of those are discipline, commitment and loyalty.”
Ralph III, a longtime coach of baseball and tennis around Avon and Brownsburg, says his father was sold on the idea of putting in the extra time.
“If you want something bad enough, it takes time and effort,” says Ralph III. “He would push us.”
Ralph and Shirley Hartnagel (who would have been married 54 years on May 31) have five children. Besides sons Ralph III, Gary and Jeff Hartnagel, there are daughters Karen Oakley and Christine Wysong plus 14 grandchildren. Both girls were swimmers at Concord High School.
All of them have followed in Ralph’s sporting footsteps.
Ralph III’s youngest, Michael, is the starting shortstop as a junior at Brownsburg High School.
Gary’s oldest daughter, Maggie, played for Marian’s state runner-up girls soccer team as a sophomore last fall and was a state qualifier in track last spring. Gary has logged much ice time as a hockey player and coach.
Jeff’s oldest, Ryan, is a senior lacrosse standout at Rockford High School near Grand Rapids, Mich., and will play that sport next year at Davenport University. Youngest son Ryan is a sophomore lacrosse player at Rockford. Jeff is owner of a Play It Again Sports store. One of Jeff’s fond memories is winning a father-son tennis doubles tournament with his father and he still likes to take the court.
Karen’s second child, Caroline, is a sophomore soccer player and swimmer at Central High School. Oldest child Katie played tennis for the Blue Blazers.
Christine’s oldest, Nick, is Concord’s starting senior shortstop and is bound for the University of Pittsburgh on a soccer scholarship. Second child Drew is a sophomore soccer player at Concord.
Ralph Hartnagel Jr. grew up in North St. Louis, Mo., and was a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. He was a member of the “Knothole Gang” for kids at old Sportsman Park and was a frequent spectator at Washington University basketball games.
Ralph was a varsity football, basketball and baseball player at Coyle High School. It was love at first sight when he saw Shirley in the stands at a basketball game.
He played soccer for one year at the University of Dayton then went on to play wide receiver for Southeast Missouri State University’s unbeaten football team in 1958.
A chance to try out with baseball’s Kansas City Athletics was squashed since the rule at the time said you couldn’t be an amateur in one sport and a pro in another.
Ralph planted the seeds of his sporting legacy in Elkhart when he moved to town in 1966. He worked for Miles Lab and played for the company softball team.
And so much more.