This special post was written by Rev. Erin Proie, the chaplain at Chapel Hill Community.
During COVID-19, while experiencing the grief that goes along with the pandemic, United Church Homes is grieving a man who was well-known for his life of service in the United Church of Christ. Rev. Dr. Ralph Quellhorst, a former member of the UCH Board of Directors and resident of its Chapel Hill Community, passed away June 23, 2020.
As minister and executive for the UCC’s Ohio Conference (now Heartland Conference) from 1993-2003, Ralph served on our Board. But his impact extended far and wide, and it’s impossible to know the exact number of lives he changed.
Ralph’s ministry took him to Hungary, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Guatemala, Belize and throughout the U.S. He was an adjunct theology professor and served on numerous boards and committees, including the Heidelberg University (then Heidelberg College) Board of Trustees for over 30 years.
Ralph received the John Calvin Award for humanitarian work, presented at the 44th World Congress of the Hungarian Reformed Churches in Budapest. Having personally experienced the devastation of a tornado that destroyed the parsonage where his family lived in Bluffton in 1965, he was an advocate for the establishment of the UCC’s Disaster Response Ministry (now Disaster Ministries).
Ralph’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s, a disease that consistently tried to take his independence and physical abilities, was a testament to the resiliency of his spirit. Gracefully accepting the limitations of the progression of Parkinson’s disease – which he lived with for 18 years – Ralph embodied the vision of United Church Homes:
“Where the Spirit creates abundant life in community.”
No matter what obstacles he faced, Ralph always found ways to keep sharing in community life in meaningful ways. I was blessed to have a dual relationship with Ralph – I was his pastor, but he was also my mentor. Once, being called to an end-of-life visit, I was not surprised to find Ralph there, holding his friend’s hand and praying with her and her spouse.
The first Easter after I came to Chapel Hill in 2018, Ralph asked to preach the message for Good Friday. We worked with one of Ralph’s daughters to make it happen, and many folks asked us how we did it. With the appropriate supports, Ralph was proud to be back in the pulpit, preaching to his peers.
When we tossed around an idea to bring back the bell choir, Ralph was there — ringing not one, not two but four in hand — never missing a practice. Every Sunday, Ralph was there to greet his fellow residents and pass out bulletins, always offering a smile and handshake of peace. Every opportunity that came, every new idea we tried — Ralph was there to support it enthusiastically, from bells to Opening Minds through Art and everything in between.
Ralph contributed so much to United Church Homes throughout his life, and he continued to do so while serving on our chapel committee, with a humble reminder that no gift is too small, and every offering can make an impact on our world.
I cherish the times we sat, talking about world events, when he shared his perspective, guidance and support in how to navigate difficult times. He shared articles and music, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we binged church services together. After worshiping together in the chapel, we would watch his daughter, Rev. Mindy Quellhorst, deliver her sermon online. We’d laugh with joy about how one good thing in this mess was to be able to participate in so many worship services we wouldn’t normally attend. A gift I will always remember is being able to watch together, for him to see great pastors he helped to develop coping with a challenging time, and to see the pride on his face afterward.
Everyone here knew Ralph, across all levels of care: independent and assisted living, memory care, short-term-rehabilitation and long-term care. His life will always be an inspiring example of how the Spirit continues to move and how we all have meaning and purpose through the end of life. He also teaches us that one person can cause wide-reaching ripple effects in a community.
In times of transition here, what gave Ralph the most comfort was the reminder that he helped to build community at Chapel Hill. He and his late wife, Sue, lent financial support through the Ralph C. and Sue Quellhorst Leadership Endowment Fund, which supports staff education, pastoral leadership development, minority leadership development and professional internships for graduate and undergraduate students. And their legacy continues at United Church Homes.
Ralph was an aging hero who demonstrated how to age abundantly every day of his life. He maintained independence by always being part of every decision, especially about transitioning levels of care.
Parkinson’s didn’t stop Ralph. Of course, he had moments of doubt, fear and frustration, but I will never forget how well he coped with an awful hand, and how his faith, leadership and kindness continued throughout every physical decline. His spirit was always seeking abundant life not only for himself, but for those all around him. We will miss Ralph’s dynamic leadership in mentoring young pastors and always seeking justice.
Peace and blessings to all who knew our friend, Ralph.