October 09, 2006

Memorial Today

11 a.m. – Town Hall Auditorium – Memorial Service for Ralph Sheffer

Brian's speaking on behalf of the grandchildren and sent me a copy of his remarks (as prepared, no doubt he'll adlib)

Hopefully they'll send me some pictures later.

Brian's remarks:

Good morning.

Ralph Sheffer was my grandfather. He was a great man. And I miss him.

And by the turnout today, I know I am not the only person who thought that, nor the only one who misses him. Thank you all for being here today and for your love and support of my family.

I have the privilege of representing Ralph’s grandkids. There are five of us in all: me, my older sister Emily, my younger sister Betty and younger brother Eduard, and my cousin Brooke, who is here today. I also want to recognize Liz and Annie, my two step-sisters, and Lois Schine’s eight grandchildren. My grandfather loved each of them like his own and I know they would say they are lucky to have had him, as Lois’ granddaughter, Cody, liked to say, as their ‘Spare Grandpa.” And, I want to introduce my wife, Karen. My grandfather absolutely adored Karen – he immediately welcomed her into our family and lit up whenever she entered the room – as do I.

When a person dies we have an opportunity to remember what made them special and the contribution they made to each of us. I have had the opportunity this past week to remember my grandfather, to read some of his papers, recall his jokes, and hear stories from friends and family.

In all that I have read and heard, something has become clear to me: I am on a path very similar to the one my grandfather took in life. My grandfather devoted a substantial part of his life to politics and public service. I too have the caught the political bug. My grandfather was a salesman and an advertising executive. And though the technology has changed some, I now work in the same field. And my grandfather was a generous husband, a caring father, and friend to many. I certainly hope that the trajectory of my life will follow that course as well.

But really, it was sports that that has always connected us. Let me share a few quick stories:

I attended the University of Michigan, and in 1997, my freshman year, the Wolverines went undefeated and were invited to play in the Rose Bowl. I immediately made my plans to attend. A few days before I left on my trip, I got a package from my grandfather in the mail. On the cover of the envelope he scrawled in his shaky handwriting “Brian – I was a senior when I made my first visit and you will do it when you’re a freshman.”

My grandfather traveled to Pasadena, California in 1934 to watch his Columbia Lions upset Stanford University 7-0. The game is considered the greatest sports upset in the last 100 years and remains Columbia’s only bowl victory in their history.

I believe that game served as inspiration to my grandfather, who went on to be an executive with the Spencer Advertising Company and helped to sell sponsorships, and develop programs for sports teams and events, including the Rose Bowl.

When I opened the envelope my grandfather had sent me, I found the official program from the 1965 Rose Bowl between Michigan and Oregon State, which my grandfather had helped to produce. Michigan went on to win that game, and the national championship.

I left Michigan after my sophomore year and a few years later, found my way to Columbia to finish college. My first order of business upon arriving on campus was joining the heavyweight crew team --- as coxswain. And two years later, in March of 2002, I helped honor my grandfather for his contributions to Columbia by leading a new boat, the Ralph Sheffer ’34, into a race on the Harlem River.

At the time, I wrote this for Columbia’s student paper:

My grandfather was a coxswain here at Columbia in the early 1930s. He was recruited during the first days of his freshman year because he was small -- his weight was just shy of 100 pounds at the time -- and joined not even knowing how to swim. By the end of his four years, he helped to lead what the yearbook described as "the finest long distance crew Columbia has had since the Championship 1929 eight” – a team that won the IRA Regatta, our sport's national championship.

Together, we swap stories about rowing. He tells me of the time that he was thrown into the Harlem River after a race, only to spend the remainder of the semester in bed recovering from pneumonia. He speaks fondly of the rowers from the crew his junior year who went on to represent the United States at the Olympic trials.

My grandfather's name can be found carved into the wood paneling of [the Columbia] boathouse, along with other rowers and coxswains who have proudly worn the "C" into battle. I proudly join that battle. Like he was, I am the smallest member of the team by far, and of course, the coxswain. I am the guy in the back of the boat who yells "stroke" and is thrown into the water after winning a race, just as he did more than seven decades ago.

My crew failed to win the inaugural race with the new boat, but the sleek yellow Empacher shell that bears my Grandfather’s name has delivered some key victories for Columbia and remains one of the jewels of the Lions’ fleet.

And lastly, there is my grandfather’s deep love of baseball – which I most definitely share.

In 1997, when I made a pilgrimage for baseball – driving the country and visiting all the major league baseball stadiums, the hall of fame, the all star-game, and even throwing out the first pitch at a minor league ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama – it was my grandfather who most understood the importance of the quest, and whose sponsorship made it possible.

You see, for many, baseball is just a sport, a form of entertainment. For my grandfather and I, the game of baseball is something more profound. Just as religion provides a structure and form to many people’s lives, baseball served as the foundation that my adult relationship with my grandfather was built on and the prism through which we viewed life together. To us, baseball was a religion.

True baseball fans are so consumed by the game [that] they devote their lives to their favorite teams, as parishioners do to their congregations. They read the daily sports pages in newspapers, devouring reports and features about their favorite teams and players as the devotedly read and re-read their holy scripture each day looking for guidance. They learn to speak the language of baseball, to dissect box scores of games, and to re-create narratives of at bats, innings, and series', just as the faithful tell of their religion's triumphs while evangelizing to the masses.

Of course, my grandfather worshiped at the House that Ruth Built – pouring his energy and focus into the Yankees more than any other team, in any other sport. All 26 of the Yankees championships came during his lifetime, and I am confident he watched every single one of them unfold. In fact, it seemed at times that he watched every game their ever played. Perhaps that is one of the reasons he liked my wife so much – Karen is a big time Yankees fan. Me? Not so much. But, even I would have welcomed a 27th championship for the Bronx Bombers if it meant my grandfather could have experienced that wonderful sensation one more time.

I only remember attending one game with my grandfather: a contest against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium on a beautiful, and bright, Sunday afternoon. But nearly all our visits and phone calls were consumed with talk about baseball. Sports provided us with a shared sense of meaning and a common language. Each season, each time I visit a ballpark, every championship the Yankees win in the future will provide me with a chance to remember my grandfather and the time we had together.

I am grateful to all of you for being here today. And thank you for helping to celebrate the wonderful contribution my grandfather has made to each of us, and this community. We will all miss his humor, his wonderful stories, and his passion for life. I hope that you all find a little something in his life to carry with you, to use as inspiration when you get up in the morning and go forward. I know I will.

Thank you.

Hi Emily: My 98-yr-old mother was a friend of Ralph's in Westport. She is now in a skilled nursing facility here in Grass Valley, and she wanted me to find out all about Ralph's service for her. Of course I went right to your website. Thanks for the news coverage for those of us who couldn't be there today. I'll check back again for more photos.
Posted by: Nancy Peach at October 9, 2006 06:10 PM

Hi Emily,It was a very wonderful memorial.Johnathans programs were perfect,very classy.All the speakers were so touching and lots of humour but Johnathan seemed to really let his feelings surface and I felt tears when he broke briefly.His music was beautiful,Doug commented that music like that should precede all such events as everyone had a chance to just listen to something so beautiful and reflect.Your family was amazing,your mom set the standard being so beautiful and composed. We had lunch at Brookside before heading home,once again your mom knew how to handle weary travelers.Lisa and John got on the 6a.m. ferry from the vineyard and made it just in time.The hall was absolutely full of people that your grandfather touched,I was proud to be there. Love,Linda P.S. We had our aging Bella when Dinah joined the family as the tiniest kitten .Bella was furious for days but they ended up being inseperable.
Posted by: linda at October 9, 2006 06:21 PM

It was a fabulous event ... Later, at lunch withe some of the out-of-towners we had a chance to tell Ralph stories .. I told a bit of your mom's story, nancy, so you all were there in spirit.
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