By Rosemary K. Otzman
Christmas always was a favorite time of the year for Ralph Nodwell, who loved to dress up as Santa Claus and meet with children at the Festival of Trees in Detroit’s Cobo Hall.
He was the festival’s Santa for more than 10 years to benefit Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation.
Santa Ralph also would go over to Children’s Hospital to talk with ailing children. He looked forward to the season and loved bringing smiles to little ones.
He got to know a lot of people of all ages with his Detroit volunteer work.
One year, he provided the Independent with a photo of him as Santa with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes from New York City clustered around him.
Ralph Alexander Nodwell, Jr., of Van Buren Township, died at the age of 79, on Sunday, Nov. 24, at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor after undergoing heart surgery in early September.
At the June 18 meeting of the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees, Trustee Reggie Miller read a Resolution signed by the whole board honoring a frail Nodwell for his 34 years of volunteer work in the Tri-Community.
The proclamation brought a standing ovation from the audience. He received the proclamation and then Township Supervisor Linda Combs also gave him an ornate plaque.
He and his wife of 53 years Arleen posed for a picture with the township board as he held his awards.
Nodwell, who served his country as a Marine, loved to help people. The Independent regularly called Nodwell when people needed handicapped ramps built. He knew how to get the supplies donated and to get the ramps built without a lot of fuss.
In 2009, he worked to get an American flag erected in front of the Van Buren Public Schools Administration Building, voicing surprise that it had been without a flag for so long.
He had an associate’s degree in mechanical technology (engineering).
Nodwell served as President of the Belleville National Strawberry Festival and President of the Belleville Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as serving on the VBT Recreation Committee.
He also served on the Van Buren Public Schools Board of Education for three terms — 13 years — and missed the 2009 deadline to file for reelection for a fourth term because he was out of state. He ran as a write-in candidate, but didn’t make it and then lost out in the 2010 election, as well, although he had filed early.
His first term on the school board was for one year, when he was appointed to replace Sharry Budd, who was elected to office in Van Buren Township.
During his 13 years on the school board, he received the state’s highest honor for board members, The 2007 President’s Award from the Michigan Association of School Boards, awarded to those who have completed the required courses offered by MASB. The award also required many hours of community service in the community.
He also served on the MASB By-laws and Resolution committee and the Wayne RESA Executive Committee.
Nodwell’s volunteer work has brought awards over the years from the Chamber of Commerce, Belleville Area Council for the Arts, Optimist International, Belleville Moose, Junior Achievement and many statewide organizations.
During his years of community service, Nodwell raised $21,000 to purchase a Fire Safety House as an educational tool for the tri-community fire departments.
He loved fire engines and bought an old engine that he displayed in his yard and drove in local parades.
Nodwell also served as co-chairman to raise funds for a cancer patient’s transplant (Kathy Hammons) and they raised $170,000 in 90 days; served as co-chairman for fundraising efforts to raise $673,000 for medical expenses for Stephanie Smith; and served as co-chairman of fundraising efforts to establish a scholarship fund for the Shirley A. Foley memorial and raised about $5,000 for a Hospice Bereavement Program.
Nodwell said teaching was his hobby and for many years he taught Small Engine Repair classes at the Western Campus of the Wayne County Community College District and at Washtenaw Community College. The week before he died, Nodwell’s daughter, who took over the teaching duties for her father in the fall, told the class that Nodwell was dying.
The class members started their grieving early.
Nodwell is survived by his wife; three daughters, Joan, Coreen, and Sharleen; four grandchildren; and two brothers.
A Memorial Celebration of Life service will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, at the David C. Brown Temporary Funeral Chapel, 500 E. Huron River Dr., Belleville, preceded by a gathering starting at noon.
By Rosemary K. Otzman