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Photo: Ralph Andrea, W0FCO, became a silent key in 1993. (Thanks to George, N0SBU & the History Project for this photo of Ralph posing with a handheld radio.)
Recently I had a phone call from the elderly mother of a long-time Handiham member. She explained to me that her son needed some help with his radio. Of course we visited on the phone for awhile so that I could learn a bit more about the radio and what it was and wasn't doing, but then we got to talking about how her son had gotten help from a Handiham volunteer in past years.
"Ralph Andrea used to come over to the house and help us with the station", she said. Ralph had passed away long ago, and now her son needed help again.
I remember when I first started with the Handiham program myself. It was 1991, and one of the first people Sister Alverna, WA0SGJ, told me about was Ralph, W0FCO. "Ralph", she explained, "will never miss an opportunity to tell someone about the Handiham System - even complete strangers."
It was true. If Ralph saw someone who used a wheelchair or a white cane, he would introduce himself and start his sales pitch about how much fun ham radio was and how the Handiham System could help them get started. He was an awesome volunteer, and I was privileged to meet him and work with him in the Handiham System for two years, until his death in 1993. There was almost no volunteer job that Ralph wouldn't handle. He would pay calls to members who needed antenna work or station setup help. He kept a massive collection of electronics parts in his basement, which was jammed with floor to ceiling shelves like a commercial repair shop. If someone needed a left-handed resistively-coupled doofrazzle, Ralph was going to find one in that collection, because everything was neatly stacked, organized, and labeled.
When Ralph got sick and spent his final days in the V.A. Medical Center in Minneapolis, I got the feeling that he was still very much the Handiham volunteer. During one of my visits to his hospital room shortly before his death, he wanted to make sure that I would take good care of the Handiham System. That was the kind of guy Ralph was. Other people, especially Handiham members, came first.
It was a sad day when we had to say goodbye to such a kind and dedicated friend of Courage Center. After Ralph became a silent key, Doris, his XYL, got help from the local ham community to sell the parts collection and radios, donating the proceeds to help us and even setting up a special fund to help Handihams into the future. The parts sale was so big that it filled the garage and the wide driveway. Hams from the 3M Amateur Radio Club and the St. Paul Radio Club as well as others pitched in to help.
That gift of support still helps us offer services today, and I know that some of you, our readers and listeners, will step up to the plate and help keep the Handiham System healthy. Maybe you can give your time to help someone else. Perhaps you can teach a ham radio licensing class at your local radio club or school. Some of you will be able to help with gifts of financial support. Ralph did all of that stuff, but I sometimes wonder where he found the time. The thing is, if you truly want something in life, you are more likely to make it happen. He liked ham radio and made the special mission of the Handihams his priority.
I want you to think about Ralph Andrea when someone asks you to help set up a rig or teach a class. Or yes, write a check to support us. Working together, we are sure to succeed when we have something as exciting as amateur radio to share.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, firstname.lastname@example.org