FRANKLINVILLE — William and Blanche Ragsdale had seven children between 1913 to 1924. James Guy Ragsdale, their third-born, only survived 45 days. The other six lived at least 83 years.
Three of the five girls lived well into their 90s, then all three of them died within a period of 191 days.
“I don’t know if there’s a story there, but it seems interesting,” said Astor Kinney, whose mother, Edith Ragsdale Kinney, lived the longest of the bunch, dying Jan. 20, 2018, less than five months from her 100th birthday. Her sister, Irene Ragsdale Murray, was 97 when she passed away last October, and youngest sibling, Viola Ragsdale Beane, was the last of the Ragsdale clan when she died earlier this month on May 7.
“Starting about 1981, we would have a family reunion every year at the GE Clubhouse where Viola worked,” Kinney said. When Viola retired from GE/Black & Decker, the family began meeting at a local restaurant, some 30 to 35 strong coming together “just to see each other.”
What was unusual, Kinney said, was the unity and camaraderie amongst the entire group. “It was some more time when they were all together,” he said. “I never heard a cross word with them.”
Mary Ragsdale Curtis, 83, was the first to die since James Guy passed away when he was less than 2 months old. Her death was in 1997, followed in 2001 by Jewel Ragsdale Shane at age 87. James Charlie Ragsdale reached the ripe old age of 88 before leaving the last three Ragsdale girls behind in 2010.
Kinney’s one regret is that his mother didn’t make it to 100. He said a good friend of hers, Virginia Norwood, turned 100 on May 6 and they were hoping to celebrate both birthdays with a big party.
He said his mother and father, Norman, both worked at Randolph Mills in Franklinville. They had another son, Raymond, who was a couple of years older than Astor.
“It was a joyous time to live even though we didn’t have anything,” Kinney said. “But we didn’t know we didn’t have anything.
“Daddy used to say, ‘when the boys leave home, I’m quitting (the mill).’ ”
Sure enough, after Astor finished high school and joined the Air Force, the home was empty of boys and Norman quit the mill. Soon after, Edith “taught herself how to decorate cakes and started catering.”
Her big break in the business came when she baked a birthday cake for Viola and took it to her job at GE. The co-workers were so impressed that they started asking Edith to bake for their special occasions.
It wasn’t long before she became known as the “Cake Lady,” catering for weddings, birthdays and other events, doing everything out of her kitchen. Folks would see her and say, “You made my wedding cake” or “You made my daughter’s birthday cake.”
Edith was widowed when Norman died in 1990.
Irene married Melvin Murray, a jolly Irishman well-known for his barbecue and chili. Together they ran a restaurant in Martinsville, Va., in the late 1940s.
Then they came back to Randolph County and opened Melvin’s Drive-In, first on U.S. 64 at the Franklinville road, now known as Andrew Hunter Road. After a few years, the drive-in moved down 64 just past Pleasant Ridge Church Road, doing a bang-up business. Motorists from Raleigh to Charlotte would stop to eat Melvin’s barbecue.
After the Murrays sold the drive-in and opened the Ramseur Cafe, Melvin died at the age of 48 and Irene sold the cafe. She was known far and wide by customers of Lowe’s Foods, where she worked for many years before retiring.
Viola married Wallace Beane, who raised prized beagles, winning trophies and a customer base for his puppies. Wallace died four years ago.
When it was just the three sisters left of the Ragsdales, Kinney said, “Mother would drive them around until she was 89. She always had answers to family questions. She was my encyclopedia.”
Kinney likes to tell about something that happened some 10 years ago. He said Edith and Irene had never flown and some of the family decided to take them to Las Vegas on a commercial jet.
“Mother and Daddy had taken 11 road trips across the country over the years,” Kinney said. “She could tell you everything about what was going on along the road.
“When we got to Las Vegas, we asked her, ‘What did you think?’ She said, ‘Well, I didn’t see anything.’ ”
The Ragsdales were a clan but they weren’t clannish, according to Kinney. He talked about an Air Force buddy named Bill Heard from Alabama who used to come home with him during leave. Bill was accepted into the family like a third son, Kinney said.
“When Bill got out of the Air Force, he was a few weeks ahead of me,” Kinney said. “He moved in with my parents” and was there when Kinney came home.
Heard remained good friends with the Kinneys, and “never missed sending a Mother’s Day card.”
During the past few years, the remaining Ragsdale girls stayed in close contact. “All three were together, then all of a sudden, they were all gone,” Kinney said.
First Irene died Oct. 28, 2017, followed on Jan. 20, 2018, by Edith.
“Viola said, ‘When I die, I’m the last of the Ragsdales,’ ” Kinney recalled. He tried cheering her up by playing her some old videos and songs.
She was in a nursing facility when she asked to go home. About three weeks later, she was gone, Kinney said.
The Ragsdales may be gone, but their legacy survives. “They were all very close,” Kinney said.
“Now all the cousins are very close,” added Kinney’s wife, Brenda. “That’s so unusual, I think.”
“All of us get along so well,” Kinney echoed.
It all goes back to the Ragsdale siblings and how they kept close all through the years. “You just wanted to be with them,” Brenda said. “They were fun.”