Ralph William Wilcox, of Onalaska, Wisconsin, passed away peacefully on Thursday, March 7th, 2019, just shy of his 93rd birthday.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Lucille (Koehl); five children, David (Carol) Wilcox, Linda (Thomas) Arlt, Richard “RJ” (Sandi) Wilcox, Patricia (Robert) Krarup, and Nancy (Corey) Ramquist; nine grandchildren, Michael (Julia) Wilcox, Rebecca (Daniel) Davenport, Nicholas (Mary) Arlt, Russell (Julie) Wilcox, Allison (Jason) Suchon, Lee (Katie) Krarup, Lane Krarup and Angel Perez, Roxanne (Luke) Dowske, and Jacqueline Ramquist; and eight great-grandchildren, Andrew, Jordan, Jaden, Jack, Victoria, Samantha, Zoey, and Jewel.
Ralph was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, on March 23, 1926 to William and Cordelia (Boucher) Wilcox. He signed up for the U.S. Navy’s Naval Aviation Cadet V-5 program, following his graduation from Janesville High School in 1944. He went into naval training at West Michigan College, followed by two months at Glenview Naval Air Station, and then preflight school at the State University of Iowa. After the end of the War, Ralph was honorably discharged from the Navy.
From there, he used the GI Bill to enroll in an Economics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That is where he met and fell in love with Lucille. He left the University after one year, when Lucille graduated in 1947, in order to get married. The couple wed on September 6, 1947, and settled in Janesville. In addition to their five children, they also welcomed Marilyn (Koehl) Thompson into their home.
Ralph drove a fuel truck for Standard Oil Company, and then in 1957, became an insurance agent for Metropolitan Life in Monroe, Wisconsin. He earned his CLU designation through the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Ralph retired from MetLife in 1982, after relocating to La Crosse, Wisconsin, and serving as a district manager. He worked part-time for the Insurance Center in Onalaska, Wisconsin, as a consultant and a computer technician, until re-retiring in 2004.
Ralph grew up surrounded by music, learning to play the clarinet and saxophone by ear, and practicing songs with his mother and siblings, all musicians. His passion for music carried throughout his life, as he performed for many years with Al Townsend’s Wonderful World of Jazz Band, the Mississippi Mudcats, and other local jazz groups, and was a member of the American Federation of Musicians. With the Wonderful World band, he represented the state of Wisconsin at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, and also played the Stardust in Las Vegas for several years. He and Lucille would travel to jazz festivals together, where he would play clarinet and sax. Ralph occasionally sang lead vocals, and often got requests from his grandchildren and fans to sing their favorite “Ain't Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll” song.
He would never admit it, but Ralph was known for his humor. He was quick with puns and could deliver one-liners with a straight face but with a twinkle in his eye. His relatives and friends were lucky enough to earn humorous nicknames that Ralph thought up and made everyone chuckle. In school, his classmates called him “Harpo,” a nickname for Harlow Wilcox, the announcer from the comedic radio show Fibber McGee and Molly. Later, he enjoyed entertaining his children and grandchildren, who will never be able to eat pancakes or dinner rolls without recalling how Ralph would stomp his foot when putting them on his plate. His lifelong dislike for flies meant you would never catch him eating a meal outside, even eating indoors while his children ate the Father’s Day picnic they made for him outside.
Ralph was always interested in airplanes and cars. He enjoyed assembling model airplanes as a child, and took flying lessons after leaving the Navy. His first car was a modified 1931 Model A Ford that had 12-inch airplane wheels and an inverted rowboat for a body. Two of his favorite vehicles were the 1935 Terraplane that he and Lucille took on their honeymoon and their 1937 two-seater Ford Coupe that his children called the “Putt Putt.” Ralph also proudly displayed a photo in his office of the Jaguar that was restored by his son, RJ.
He and Lucille enjoyed traveling together, and for many years would spend their winters in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Penny, a very special dog, held a special place in Ralph’s heart. Ralph was an avid golf fan and always supported the Western Michigan and UW-Madison sports teams. A gifted table tennis player, he often won matches against his sons, sons-in-law and grandchildren on the ping-pong table he had in his basement. He was also known to actively defend his championship title in Wii Bowling at Eagle Crest North in Onalaska, where Ralph and Lucille have lived since 2011. He was a member of the American Legion and a Fourth Degree Knight with the Knights of Columbus.
Ralph was preceded in death by his parents, brother Roy, and sisters Mildred Wilkins and Grace Broderick, and Marilyn Thompson.
A visitation for Ralph will be held at 9:30am on Tuesday, March 19th, at St. Patrick’s Parish in Onalaska, followed by a funeral service at 11:00am. In lieu of flowers, Ralph’s family asks that donations be made to St. Patrick’s Parish or the Alzheimer’s Association.
The family would like to thank the Memory Care Unit at Eagle Crest North for all the compassionate and loving care during Ralph’s last year.