Obituary of Ralph Ogburn Dabney
Ralph Ogburn Dabney beloved son of Rev. John and Eva Mae Dabney, husband to Wanda Lee (Smith) Dabney, father to Taryl Holden and Trent Dabney, devoted Christian, avid car aficionado, lover of old tractors, proud veteran of three wars, and teller of many jokes and tales, took his final road trip on September 10th, 2023.
Born the fourth child of 16, on April 11, 1926, this 97 year old son of a preaching tobacco farmer, heard the siren call to service to his country during WWII, and joined the US Navy in 1943. After seeing much of the South Pacific, riding troop transports and destroyers (the USS Bladen, USS Higby, USS Zaurak, and USS Dawson), fighting in the Philippines, and witnessing the testing of two atomic bombs in the Bikini Islands, the young man returned home to complete his high school diploma at Baron DeKalb high and went on to earn his Associates Degree from Wingate College.
Not one to remain sidelined from service, Ralph (oft times known as Ogburn by his family) once again joined the service, the newly formed branch called the US Air Force in 1952. After digging way too many ditches in Japan, he joined a newly formed outfit called the Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency (GEEIA) where he installed radio towers, spliced more cables than he cares to remember, repaired antennas, and tried everything he could do not to have to run. He hated running. For any reason. He played in sandboxes in Korea, Montana (nearly froze), Newfoundland (did freeze), got passed by a Fiat 500 going over 100 miles an hour in Darmstadt, Germany, and served in more places than the family recalls.
While on leave in California, and after his future sister-in-law, Patsy Lorance nearly ran him over in a church parking lot, he met the love of his life and future bride, Wanda Lee Smith, originally of Missouri roots, while trapped between the cars. The fiesty little Smith girl, known as “Fritz” to everyone, absolutely stole his heart and, following a protracted love letter writing campaign, the 36 year old bachelor Airman proposed and the two embarked on the long road trip from California to Missouri to ask her father’s hand in marriage. (Ask Fritz about that road trip sometime. What was she thinking?) They wed on October 27, 1962 and something must have gone right as they spent the next 60 years married.
Having both come from very large families, the two decided it was time for some progeny of their own. By 1967, the itinerant cable man and antenna farmer and his bride were living in San Antonio, Texas. In July 1967, they welcomed baby Taryl Shannon “Doddle Digger” Dabney into their family. (Ask Taryl the story of her nickname sometime). But after a coin toss landed him under a mattress at Tan Son Nhut airbase in the Republic of Viet Nam during the 1968 Tet offensive, Ralph decided maybe 20 1/2 years military service was enough—and it was time to come home and serve his family.
He retired from the Air Force in November 1969. And in April 1970, Ralph and Fritz decided it was time to welcome a son into their little family. They adopted a long, skinny baby, Damon Trent Dabney, from Austin, Texas. Trent is truly thankful that his sister did not get her wish of naming him Travis Glenn Campbell Dabney—she had such a crush on the singer.
After moving his family (and mobile home) to Jacksonville, Arkansas and then Mountain View, Missouri, Ralph had his fill of commuting back and forth to Illinois for a job and decided it was time to take his bride and family back “home”. The straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back landed on Ralph in 1972. While freezing in Saint Louis, Missouri looking for a job (he did not like the cold), he went out to his 1969 pickup truck. After the longest time he finally got the cold truck started. He went inside and told his wife Fritz to get packed up in a hurry. He said, “I have the truck running and I won’t turn it off until we get somewhere warmer.” He shipped his single-wide mobile home from Mountain View, and moved his family to DeKalb community in South Carolina. He made $500 a month and had a $100 truck payment and $100 house payment.
Ralph moved the family onto a 50 acre plot with an old house built in the 1820’s that his Daddy had owned. After working on the “old house” for years, nearly sliding off the three-story roof while re-shingling it, he found that it might be better to take on a “smaller” house renovation. He bought the superintendent’s house from up at the now abandoned Baron DeKalb high school—the very one from which he graduated so many years ago. He paid $400 for the house and $1,200 to move it to where it sits now. He fixed up just about every room—slowly—over the next 40 years (ask Fritz how slowly). But he had a good excuse. He worked shift work at DuPont for the next 16 years while “fixing up the house”. He planted a few gardens in between—grew corn sky high, and made the kids dig potatoes and cut okra. And they all sat on the porch he built and shelled butter beans.
After he retired a second time, Ralph became a professional putterer, frustrated amateur carpenter, dedicated and devoted grandfather and eventually great-grandfather. He loved showing off his tractor mower and taking his grandkids Jeremy, Jacob, Noah, Jonathon, Jordan, Kaycee, Samuel, and Isabel on many trailer rides. A trailer that he fashioned out of spare parts and love. And when young Jacob grew up and had his own little ones, the man known to most as Papa, became Big Papa to Carson, Emersyn, and Easton.
All along, he was a devoted deacon in Bethany Baptist Church in Westville, SC. He read his bible daily and every book ever written by Louis L’Amour. He taught Sunday School classes. But he taught so much more by the way he lived, loved, and laughed. And he will be missed by those he left behind. He has surviving siblings, Juliet “Totsie” Joye, Larry Dabney, Charles “Charlie” Dabney, Gwen Mincy, and Wayne Dabney. He had six brothers and two sisters who went on to Glory ahead of him: John Thomas “JT” Dabney, Edwin Dabney, Clarice Taylor, Gene Dabney, Judson Dabney, Elizabeth “Libby” Gurly, Philip Dabney, and Kieth Dabney. He was also a caring Father-in-law to Jeffrey Holden and Valerie Dabney. Almost a second Dad.
If you knew him, you had a treat. If you did not, you missed out on knowing one of the great ones. He also helped raise a bunch of Fritz’s “babysitting” kids. So many of whom have come by to pay respects this week. He loved each one of them too. In the South, we would say that “he was good people.” We mourn for ourselves that he has passed because we will miss him immensely. We do not mourn for him because we know where he is.
We celebrate and honor his life with visitation with the family at Powers Funeral Home on Friday, September 15, 2023 from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. And we will hold funeral services at Bethany Baptist in Westville, on Saturday, September 16th at 2:00. Come early if you want a seat. Bring your own tissues. There will be time to gather in the Family Life Center following the graveside services to tell stories and remember what a great human being he was.
If you would like to honor him as well, we ask that in lieu of flowers, donate a little something to either the Wounded Warrior’s Project or directly support Bethany Baptist Church in Westville, SC. He would have appreciated either gesture.