Ralph Fender and his good friend Bennie Keil on Ralph's last day at Albertson's.
Photo by Karen Diefendorf/Woodinville Weekly.
Ralph Fender has long been a much-loved personage in the city of Woodinville. Scores of adults and children alike have grown accustomed to his happy, smiling face at Albertson's as he helped carry groceries to their cars. A newspaper once described him as "The Happiest Box Boy," and he fit the title to a "T."
However, following the death of his mother two years ago and the recent death of his father, things have changed for Ralph. He is not able live on his own. And hopes that he could live in an adult group home evaporated when it was discovered that in order to qualify, he would have to go on welfare, giving up his inheritance.
So, sadly for his many friends here, Ralph has left for South Carolina to live with his sister.
He and his parents, Mary and Shorty Fender, moved to Woodinville's Canterbury Square community 19 years ago, and it was then that Bennie Keil, a checker at the grocery store, first met him as he and his parents shopped.
Seven years ago Howard Dochow, then store director at the Woodinville Albertson's, hired Fender to work as a box boy. It was a happy match for both Albertson's and Fender.
"He lived for coming to work here," Keil said. And his constantly happy face showed how much he loved his job.
He made many friends through his work at Albertson's, but perhaps the most important were the children. "He would shake their hands with a big smile on his face," Keil said. "Little kids loved him; he had a rapport with them." In fact, when Keil told Ralph of the impending move, Ralph's first concern was for his young friends. "What about all my buddies?" he asked.
A going away party was held for Ralph at Las Margaritas last Tuesday night. His co-workers and friends dropped in for hugs and memories. Ralph smiled the whole evening as he posed for photos and greeted his friends.
"I first met Ralph at McDonald's, before he went to work for Albertson's," said Dodie Smith. "There weren't many people there and I was in the back reading when he came in and sat down in the booth with me. It was a surprise, since I didn't know him. We talked. I didn't see him again until two years later when I walked into Albertson's and he came up and said, 'I know you.' I didn't recognize him until he reminded me that we had met at McDonald's. He has been a friend ever since," Smith said.
"Ralph has always been a glowing presence," said Molly Beck, who sat next to Ralph.
Ralph was thanked by Mayor Bob Miller for his community contributions and was presented with a City of Woodinville pin.
"There are few people who touch the soul of a community. Ralph is one of them. As a fixture at Albertson's, he developed friendships with many regular customers and their children. His warm smiles, unending willingness to help, and kind nature inspired many," Carol Edwards, publisher of the Woodinville Weekly, said.
Ralph left for South Carolina last Wednesday. Those wishing to keep in contact with him can write in care of Hazel Adcock; 2520 Foxhill Court; Fort Mill, SC 29715.