By Dianne Sudbrock and Photos by Candace Staringer
Ralph Gregory of Marthasville turned 105 on September 27, 2014
and was honored with a secondary celebration on Monday, Sept. 29th
at the Boone Duden Historical Society Board meeting. Mr. Gregory is a long-time member of the Boone Duden Historical Society and remains active as a member of the Advisory Board. At the meeting, Gregory shared a copy of a resolution he had received from the Missouri State Senate at a larger celebration held in his honor on Sunday, Sept. 28
at the Washington Historical Society Museum.
The resolution, signed by Missouri Senate President Pro Tem, Tom Dempsey, and presented by Senator Brian Nieves, recognized Mr. Gregory for his milestone birthday; his unusually long life; his WWII military service - part of which was spent as a prisoner of war; his membership in several Historical Societies, some of which he helped found; and the fact that at the age of 103 he passed a driver’s test to renew his license!
BDHS President, Ruth Busdieker, presented a large birthday card
signed by BDHS board members to Ralph Gregory for his 105th birthday.
Ralph Gregory was born in Washington, Missouri – the oldest of four children. His father was a machinist in the shoe industry, a career which took the family to St. Louis, back to Washington, then to Hannibal and ultimately to Nashville, TN. By the time Ralph was grown he had developed an interest in radio technology and eventually went into the radio engineering business, first with a partner in Kansas City, and later on his own.
In WWII he was trained as a radar technician and flew as a navigator in some of the first planes ever equipped with radar. In October, 1943,
his plane was shot and damaged, and made an emergency landing in Turkey. He was captured as a prisoner of war. At the time, Turkey was a neutral country and during part of his capture, he was allowed to work for the American Embassy during the day and return to the prison at night. After about 6 months, he was discreetly released, put on a train and told not to speak, just show his passport. He made his way to what is now Syria, then to Tel Aviv, Israel. He toured the Holy Land before eventually making his way to Egypt and reporting back to the Army. Fortunately, he was soon sent back to the State where he taught radar and electronics in an army school in Florida until the war ended.
After the war, Ralph vowed he would live a life of his own making. He bought a farm in Tennessee and under the GI program, returned to school with the intention of earning his Ph. D. He took some courses, meanwhile studying and writing on his own, including German and French, and after awhile, decided he could do better by “living an outdoor life and studying at home.”
After his mother’s death in 1947, he and his father returned to Missouri where he bought a farm near Clover Bottom, south of Washington. An old cemetery on the property sparked his interest in history and led to his founding the Washington Missouri Museum Society, a precursor to the Washington Historical Society, and to begin writing weekly historical articles for the Washington Missourian newspaper. In April 1960
he married Adele Brehe and together they had a daughter, Nancy, who currently lives in Arizona.
Gregory with the proclamation from the state honoring
his military service and life accomplishments.
From 1960 to 1974 Ralph served as Curator of the new Mark Twain Memorial Shrine in Florida, Missouri, and from 1974 to 1977 he served as Curator of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal. After retiring in 1977, Ralph bought a home and Marthasville and continued to conduct research and write articles, some of which were published in the Washington Missourian.
Mr. Gregory has written over 200 articles, some of which took 10-20
years to research, on a variety of topics including health, science, philosophy and history. He has also written a number books, including How We Solve Our Problems Scientifically, self published 1943; Mark Twain’s First America, self published, 1965; A History of Washington, Missouri, Washington Press, 1991; The German-Americans in the Washington, Missouri Area, 1981, Washington Press, 1981; Centennial History of Emmaus Homes, 1993, St. Charles, MO: Emmaus Homes, 1993. Additional works published by the Washington Missouri Historical Society, Washington, MO include: History of Washington, Missouri to the Civil War, 1959; Washington, Missouri — The Civil War Years, 1962. M.A. “Dad” Violette — A Life Sketch, 1969; A History of Early Marthasville, Missouri, 1980; The Autobiography of Frederick Muench, 1985; Price’s Raid in Franklin County, Missouri, 1990.
In 2010, at the age of 101, Mr. Gregory flew to Washington, D.C. as an Honor Flight Veteran and is believed to be the oldest living Honor Flight Veteran in the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight region.
Earlier this year, in honor of his 105th birthday, the Washington Historical Society published Mr. Gregory’s life story, titled simply “Ralph,” with Mr. Steve Claggett as the chief author. Copies are available at the Washington Museum Bookstore. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Note: Most of the above information was taken from an article about Ralph published in the December 2003 edition of the Boone Country Connection