TEMPERANCE — Ralph E. Dunnigan, 85, a World War II veteran who left high school after his junior year to enlist in the Navy, died on Friday at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center from heart-related issues.
His daughter, Kay Van Fleteren, said her father suffered from congestive heart failure.
Mr. Dunnigan was 17 years old when he enlisted in the Navy. He served as a cook aboard the USS LST 197, a tank landing ship, in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, his daughter said.
Family lore has it that Mr. Dunnigan brought an older adult who was not his father to the enlistment office to sign the papers allowing him to enlist at age 17, his daughter said.
Once on board, he was assigned to the ship’s galley.
“He told us stories about the mountains of potatoes he had to peel,” she said. “He also told us about how he had to pick the bugs out of the flour before they would use it.”
Shortly after the World War II memorial was completed in Washington, Mr. Dunnigan took an Honor Flight to the nation’s Capitol to visit.
“It was just such a highlight for him,” Ms. Van Fleteren said. “The school children who greeted him off the plane meant a lot to him.”
After the Navy, cooking for his growing family of 13 children was primarily handled by his wife, Clara. “He joked that he then just turned it over to Mom,” she said.
He was skilled with his hands and worked various construction jobs before retiring in 1988 from Rudolph/Libbe Inc.
Mr. Dunnigan kept busy woodworking and making wood crafts that his wife would paint or decorate for sales at shows.
“Growing up in his generation, he could do anything with his hands,” his daughter said, including putting additions on to the family’s home in Temperance.
As his children grew, particularly his seven sons, he became involved in their baseball endeavors, first as coach and later as umpire. He was instrumental in forming the Bedford 3-B Baseball Umpire Association.
He taught his sons hunting and enjoyed traveling with them on their forays, especially to northern Michigan, where the family went snowmobiling.
Mr. Dunnigan was born on June 3, 1927, in Toledo to James and Elsie Dunnigan. He met his wife, Clara, while roller-skating in Toledo. The couple were married on May 12, 1948.
Mr. Dunnigan is survived by Clara, his wife of 64 years; sons Edward, James, Robert, David, John, Brian, and Richard; daughters Cathleen Shaner, Mary Witfoth, Kay Van Fleteren, Diane Vierling, and Kelly Pierson; 27 grandchildren, an 19 great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his brother, James, and daughter Jean.
His funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. today at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Temperance.
Urbanski’s Bedford Funeral Chapel, Temperance, handled the arrangements.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.
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