Dr. Ralph E. Finkner passed away peacefully with family close by on July 3, 2017, in Wray, Colorado. Dr. Finkner was a prominent plant breeder and a pioneer in the field of crop genetics. Ralph was born in Akron, Colorado, on March 24, 1925. He was the fourth and youngest son of Adolph Gustav Finkner b. 3 Oct 1888 in Nebraska and Iona Atha Roszell b. 27 Oct 1892 in Iowa.
Ralph was raised on an 800 acre ranch farmed by teams of draft horses and a 1923 John Deere steel-wheeled tractor. As a boy, Ralph loved his pony and enjoyed replicating events he and his brothers saw in Westerns.
After graduating from Akron High School, Ralph was drafted into the US Navy and served aboard the USS Savo Island (CVE78) where he worked as a mechanic in the engine room. Ralph received a total of four campaign medals during his time in service. In 1946, he was honorably discharged and enrolled at Colorado A&M College (now Colorado State University) under the GI Bill.
At Colorado A&M, Ralph was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, several honorary fraternities, and the varsity wrestling team. He earned his Bachelor of Science in 1950 in Agronomy and accepted an assistantship to attend Iowa State University (ISU) to study Plant Breeding and Plant Pathology.
On June 11, 1950, two days after graduation, Ralph married Laurene Hale his soul mate, advisor, and mentor for sixty-seven years. Ralph took dance lessons from Arthur Murray after his discharge from the Navy and he and Laurene enjoyed attending many social functions together.
Ralph received his Masters of Science and PhD from ISU and accepted a position as plant breeder for the American Crystal Sugar Company in Rocky Ford, Colorado. In 1961, he presented a paper at the first international sugar beet meeting in London and visited sugar beet research facilities throughout Europe. In Europe, Ralph enjoyed his leisure time; he toasted the Queen of England at several meals and was blessed by the Pope in Italy.
In 1966, Ralph accepted a position with New Mexico State University as Superintendent of the Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. His research included plant breeding programs in hard red winter wheat, sorghum, guayule, and pearl millet. He also conducted agronomy tests on thirty different protein (SCOP) species and authored over 125 scientific publications.
In 1970 and 1972, Ralph was a USAID consultant in Paraguay and Turkey, respectively. From 1977 to 1989, Ralph focused his research on the Expatriates for the Egyptian Major Cereals Improvement Project. In 1987, Ralph and Laurene moved to Egypt for three years. While there, he developed a more efficient and effective management system for the thirty-two Agricultural Research Stations along the Nile and throughout the Delta and Sinai.
In 1989, Ralph returned home to Clovis, New Mexico and retired. Over the years, he and Laurene traveled to over fifty countries and six continents - one of the highlights being their 50th wedding anniversary when they took their children and grandchildren to Kenya and Zimbabwe. Ralph viewed travel as an invaluable experience and encouraged his family not only to see more of the world, but also to leave it in a better place. Ralph often said he lived a blessed life, his three children were the greatest joys in life, and his grandchildren were the best and greatest.
In Ralph's breast pocket of his coveralls he carried a little book of significant dates, names, gas mileage and other important information. Also in the book, was a worn quote by Gulliver's Travels which epitomizes Ralph's life's work: "that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole face of politicians put together."
Ralph was baptized and a member of the Methodist church where he served, often as chairperson, on many committees.
Ralph was preceded in death by his parents and his brothers, Alva, Morris, and Verne Finkner. Ralph is survived by his wife, Laurene along with his children, Twila Hendrix (husband Jim) of Wray, Colorado, Lisa Templeman of Spring, Texas, and Lyle Finkner (wife Heather) of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ralph is also survived by five grandchildren, Benton Hendrix (wife Heather), Taneal Behm (husband Ryan), Tori Buchner (husband Nathan), Lorena Malecha (husband Jonathan), and Tara Templeman; and five great grandchildren Trevor, Trista, and Evan Behm and Kate and Ted Hendrix.
A funeral service is scheduled for July 13th at 10:00am at Wray United Methodist Church. Interment to follow, July 14th at 10:15am in Denver at 24 Maqr. Schmidt-Jones Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.
Published in the Eastern New Mexico News on July 27, 2017
Back to Veteran's buried in Washington County.