Ralph Silverness Tillitt
Ralph Silverness Tillitt
Our Music Man, Ralph S. Tillitt, died at his home in Alexandria on Sept. 4, 2017, at age 86. After years of heart troubles, Ralph's ticker finally gave out.
Ralph was born on St. Patrick's Day 1931 in his grandparents' farmhouse in rural Benton County, the 8th of 9 children. He was named for his Norwegian grandfather, Rognald Silverness. His mother had been a schoolteacher and his father a mail carrier and salesman. The family lived in Foley and later moved to St. Cloud. When his father left the family in 1942, Ralph's mother raised her children as a single parent, working as a seamstress.
Like many of his siblings, Ralph had gifts. He ran track, played drums, and was the marching band major at St. Cloud Tech HS. He was an excellent English and math student and an avid reader, with his nose constantly in books. And, he could really sing.
In 1949, after graduation from high school, Ralph was working for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho when he got a telegram from his mother informing him that a scholarship award letter had arrived from the U of M. The $300 scholarship from a new alumni-sponsored fund changed his life, and he was forever grateful. He completed his law degree in 1955. At the U he met Carol Jean Aagard, a nursing student at Swedish Hospital. Ralph was no dummy and recognized a good thing, so he proposed marriage at the state fair and they wed on December 27, 1953.
Ralph also had industry. He worked as a paperboy, elevator operator, and janitor to help his mother pay the bills. He had many part-time jobs during college, working for the university's building and grounds department, washing dishes at fraternity houses, and more. Ralph clerked for MN Supreme Court Justice Frank Gallagher, who recommended him to John McCarten, an attorney in Alexandria. McCarten hired Ralph, and he moved to Alexandria with his pregnant wife, Carol. Ralph became a partner at McCarten & Tillitt, where he practiced law from 1956 until his retirement in 2003.
Ralph and Carol's children were all born in Alexandria. Ralph Stephen, first born, was joined by 3 sisters, Sally, Jennifer, and Suzanne. The Tillitt family enjoyed boating, swimming, and snowmobiling on Lake Latoka and playing the board game Pollyanna at any opportunity. Ralph taught his children many old-time songs and entertained anyone with jokes, limericks, and puns, sometimes to the embarrassment of his family. Ralph always loved any word-related games, especially crossword puzzles, and later became an avid fan of Wheel of Fortune.
Ralph's love for music never ceased. He sang baritone in the Resorters, a barbershop quartet he helped form after his arrival in Alexandria. The Resorters were popular local performers for over 50 years, known far and wide for their rendition of "You Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Around." He appeared in many local theatre productions, most notably as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. A favorite role at Theatre L'homme Dieu was FDR in Annie. He sang at many weddings, funerals and local events, and in the Calvary Lutheran Choir. He knew the difference between a good note and a bad note and let his thoughts be known -- on that and many other topics as well. He didn't suffer mediocrity.
Throughout his lifetime, Ralph made many civic contributions. He served as Asst County Attorney and was a board member for Calvary Church, Alexandria School District, Alexandria Golf Club, and Theatre L'homme Dieu, where he also took the stage on occasion. Ralph was a Shriner and a dedicated, active Rotarian, attending his last meeting just four days before his death. He served as legal counsel for several townships in Douglas County and for the boards of many businesses, including REA, Alexandria Extrusion, Douglas Machine, and Alexandria Boat Works. Ralph helped to found MN Lawyers Mutual and was especially proud of his legal work in forming the then controversial Alexandria Lakes Area Sewer District in the late 1970's, which protected and improved the quality of our local lakes.
Ralph is survived by his wife of 63 years, Carol; children, Ralph Stephen Tillitt, Sally (Brenton) Smith, Jennifer (Jay) Peloquin, Suzanne (Perry) Peloquin; sister Dorothy, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held on Sept 11, at Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria. Memorials are preferred to Calvary Lutheran Church, Alexandria Area Arts Association, or the U of MN Foundation. Arrangements were provided by Anderson Funeral Home, www.andersonfuneral.net