Ralph Edward Kwiatkoski died Saturday, Feb. 15 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction after a short illness. Born Jan. 7, 1936, Ralph was 84. He was the youngest of the seven children of Anthony and Florence Kwiatkoski. Ralph loved growing up in Cheboygan, Mich., where he swam in Lake Huron and rode his bike delivering flowers from his father’s garden and the town’s newspapers.
He married Dorothy Bishop in Michigan and fathered four children. Unfortunately, his marriage failed after he moved his family to Boulder, Colo., in 1960. Ralph was a master mechanic and leased three Amoco service stations in Boulder. In 1977 when he was offered a fourth service station, he decided that he wanted a slower pace, fewer employees and more serenity.
Ralph and his companion, Debby Phelps, moved to Gunnison in August of 1978. They initially met when Debby was a student at CU-Boulder and Ralph put snow tires on her car. They were reunited in 1976 when Debby returned to Boulder and worked for him at his Broadway gas station.
Seeking a mountain town, they found Gunnison and built a house. In October of 1978 Ralph started Tomichi Tire and Towing, initially working by himself. He eventually had four employees, some who worked for him for over 30 years. Ralph loved to work and loved his customers. Many of them attended his customer appreciation and 80th birthday party. He had many customers who traded with him for 40 years until his retirement in 2018 at the age of 82. Ralph was an honest mechanic who prided himself on being fair to his customers, never overcharging and helping people who needed a bit of time to pay.
He had a great sense of humor and was always ready with a joke or a story. In the early years of Tomichi Tire, Ralph towed for the State Patrol. Many times he got out of bed in the middle of the night in the cold and snow to recover a crashed car. Debby often joined him on these late-night outings.
Ralph was not all work. He played hard on the weekends, bicycling, hiking, skiing and geocaching. Debby and Ralph married at the Red Dolly Pub on Sept. 3, 1983. Married for 36 years and together for 43 they were best friends who enjoyed riding century rides on their road bikes. In 1986 they fell in love with mountain biking and took numerous mountain biking trips around the western United States.
Ralph and Debby loved to travel and took overseas bicycling trips to Ireland, New Zealand, Italy and Peru. His last big bike trip was to Glacier National Park on his road bike when he was 79. There he tackled The Going to the Sun Road over Logan Pass in Montana. They also liked to take cruises to exotic places. The fun part of cruising was to go ashore and find bikes to ride on the local roads.
Ralph gave up drinking alcohol when he was 27 and had 56 years of sobriety. His sobriety was the bedrock of his honesty, integrity and kindness. He knew he had to look at himself in the mirror every morning and wanted to like the man he saw.
Ralph survived many health battles. He was strong and courageous while recovering and always went back to work at his beloved business. He did not like retirement and missed his customers but he knew he couldn’t run Tomichi Tire with failing health. He spent his time reading many different kinds of books. He couldn’t travel anymore but encouraged Debby to follow her dreams of mountain biking around the United States and overseas. He lived vicariously through her trips, always welcoming her home to his loving arms.
Despite his age, Ralph’s kindness extended beyond his death. He was an organ donor so that others could benefit from his tissues.
Ralph was a loving son, father, husband and uncle. He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters, Pat Gabriella, Audrey, Gariepy; his brothers, Robert, Gene, Len, and Ken Kwiatkoski; and son Jeffery.
He will be missed greatly by his wife, Debby Phelps; children, Lisa DeShazer (Joe), Susan Ginther (Todd), and Debra Steinburg; granddaughter, Jessica Roper; great-grandsons, Sam and Aydan Sunderlin; and nephew and niece, Bob and Diana Gabriella.
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all people.” From the Desiderata.
R.I.P Ralph. There will be a celebration of Ralph’s life on Aug. 1. If you wish to make a donation in Ralph’s name his two favorite nonprofits were the Gunnison Arts Center and Gunnison Trails.