A Life Well-Lived in Mid-Missouri

Ada Mae Ralph, 89, passed away at home on April 22, 2024, after a courageous battle with cancer. Ada was born to Johnnie and Willie Mae (Williams) Redden on May 13, 1934, in Miami, Missouri. Ada was just two years old and her brother John Howard was a newborn baby when they moved with their parents from the tiny town of Miami, near Marshall, MO, to a farmstead in Englewood at the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest.

In the summer of 1936 amidst a record heat wave, the family settled into planting corn, raising cows, pigs, and chickens, and gardening on their scenic farm on the dusty gravel lane called Route 1, Ashland. Many years later, that country lane would become Johnson Cemetery Road, named after the family whose children also grew up there with Ada, Howard, and their younger siblings Elmer and Gertrude.

Ada learned to cook at a young age and prepared meals while her mother and father tended the garden and plowed the fields. When she was old enough to go to school, Ada’s father taught her to walk through the woods by their farmstead and across the big woods of the national forest land to Englewood School. The children of Black families in southern Boone County attended the rural school, where Miss Hazel Dickinson Brown taught students of all ages in the one-room schoolhouse. Ada was a gifted student who loved to read, especially about nature and science. Years later while on a road trip to celebrate her 80th birthday with her cousins in the western U.S., Ada visited the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and was thrilled to see fossilized trees and the Painted Desert landscape she had read about as a young student. Ada would have graduated from high school in 1952, however she and her classmates were bused to Frederick Douglass School in Columbia, to complete their high school requirements. Ada was an honor roll student and a science award winner at Douglass School, where she was inspired by her teachers and made lifelong friends. She graduated from high school in May 1954, just months before the Supreme Court ruling that desegregated the nation’s schools. Ada was never bitter about her experience. Instead, she encouraged her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews to do well in school and taught them using her homemade flash cards which they treasured and passed on to their own children.

After attending business college in St. Louis, Ada met and married John Ralph in 1956. The couple lived in the friendly and close-knit community along Park Avenue in Columbia, Missouri. In 1965, when houses on Park and several other streets were being torn down to make way for public housing, Ada’s parents gave Ada and John an acre of land from the farm in Englewood, where they built a house for themselves and their four children, Mary, Paula, John Leon, and Janice. Their youngest child Timothy was born in 1967. Many joyous birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and graduations have been celebrated in the home where Ada lived for the rest of her life.

From the early 1960s into the 1980s, Ada worked at Boone Hospital as a nurse’s aide, giving attentive care to patients and kindness to their families. Boone Hospital invited her to teach its first training classes for nurse’s aides, setting a standard for patient care in the occupation that would later be known as certified nursing assistant. Ada received Boone Hospital’s Service to Humanity Award in recognition of her hard work and dedication.

In retirement, Ada enjoyed time with her family, reading, doing Word Search puzzles, cooking holiday dinners, and watching birds come to the tiny nest outside her kitchen window year after year. Ada gave generously to others as a daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, aunt, and friend in the special place in mid-Missouri she called home for nearly 90 years.

Ada was preceded in death by her parents Johnnie and Willie Mae Redden, her husband John Ralph, two brothers Elmer Redden and John Howard Redden, and two children Janice Ralph and John Leon Ralph. She is survived by her sister Gertrude Redden of Ashland, daughter Mary Ralph of Ashland, daughter Paula Ralph Levy (Art) of Maryland, son Tim Ralph (Loretta) of Columbia, 7 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren, and her devoted family of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends here in Mid-Missouri and across the U.S.

Funeral Service will be held on Friday, May 3, 2024, 1:00pm, at St. Luke United Methodist Church, 204 E. Ash Street, Columbia, with visitation at noon prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Missouri Cancer Care Alliance.