Remembering Ron and Ral Patterson

BEMIDJI--When Roland "Ron" Patterson returned from the Korean War, he went back to doing what he knew best--working in his father's clothing store in downtown Bemidji.

Click to enlarge the photo: Steve Patterson and his sister Janet Guggenheimer stand inside Patterson's in downtown Bemidji behind a picture of their parents, who died just days apart in November. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI-When Roland "Ron" Patterson returned from the Korean War, he went back to doing what he knew best-working in his father's clothing store in downtown Bemidji.

As his father, Abe, worked less and less, Ron took over Patterson's along with his wife, Ralyhe. Together, the two continued making the men's clothing store a staple of the shopping district, while also spending a tremendous amount of time giving back to the Bemidji community.

On Nov. 13, Ron died at the age of 89 at Havenwood Care Center. Just seven and a half days later, Ralyhe, 88, who was always by Ron's side, passed away in the room she shared with him at Havenwood the last few years of their lives.

But the legacy of Ron and Ralyhe lives on, however, in their children, Steve Patterson, who still operates Patterson's, and Janet Guggenheimer, a retired faculty member of BSU's Social Work Department, as well as in that downtown store that was so much a part of their lives and so much a part of Bemidji.

"I think my parents had really great lives," Steve said. "They worked very hard, and it rewarded them."


Growing up with Bemidji

Originally, Bemidji was just a small logging town when Patterson's was established. After immigrating to the United States from Poland and serving in the military in World War I, Abe found his way to Bemidji. After working for another clothing store owner for a while, he eventually started his own business in 1930.

"I always think about my grandfather when he opened the store then, which was a year after the (stock market) crash. He was running it during the height of the Depression, and he had a lot of hard times," Steve said. "During the second World War, he said he wasn't able to get white shirts since everything was going toward the military."

Steve said Abe would put empty boxes on the shelves to make it appear he had an inventory.

"There were days in mid-winter where he didn't want to burn electricity, so he would turn everything off and stay in his car while keeping everything closed unless a customer showed up," Steve said. "There were some very difficult times, but he succeeded."

Ron, who was born in 1928, attended the University of Minnesota, where he met Ralyhe, also known affectionately as "Ral."

The two were married in 1950, before Ron went to serve in the military.

"When he got back he started working with my grandfather, and there was never really a retirement. My grandfather began working less, and my dad worked more," Steve said.


"When you work in retail as a family, you live it. If you own a store, you do it 24 hours and get used to that with your parents. It's not like something where you work for someone else and you leave for a week and don't think about it."

"Patterson's was our life," Janet said. "Every night at the dinner table, there was business conversation and once I became 14, I started working at the store. So many of my friends were babysitting and things like that, and I was the one who had Patterson's."

In her time helping her family with Patterson's, Janet would help customers in the building's lower level.

"For many years, the downstairs was called the dungeon and it was all young men's clothing," Janet said. "So, I thought it was great. It was so much fun and I got to work with all my brother's friends."

At age 18, Janet left Bemidji to live in Colorado for 10 years before returning to the area in 1982. While she opted for a different career, though, her husband Peter joined the Patterson family business by managing the mall store for nearly 30 years before it closed in 2011.

Steve, meanwhile, came back to the area in 1974 and began working more at the downtown store with his wife, Sally, just as Ron had done with Abe.

"I worked there all through high school, but I started working full time in 1974," Steve said. "It was another situation where my dad worked less as the years went by and I took over. Both my dad taking over and me taking over were really seamless transitions."

Community pillars


Whether he was working at the store or enjoying his retirement, though, Steve and Janet both said their parents, especially Ron, were always involved with the community.

For example, Ron was a member of Bemidji's Shriners, Masons, American Legion, Lions, Jaycees and Elks Club, as well as Charlie's Coffee Klatch, a group of community business owners.

"He was an extrovert, I think he really loved it. I've received cards from people who said your dad and/or mom were pillars of the community and helped make Bemidji what it is," Janet said. "He was very civic-minded. My mother was also, but not quite to the extent of my dad in belonging to so many organizations. I think they both played a part in helping the community grow those years."

"The city has been very good to us, and it's grown a lot from when it all started. I came back and settled here because I like the idea of a small town and I think my dad did, too," Steve said. "It's a great place to raise a family and a great place to have a business."

Janet said Ron and Ralyhe were married for 67 years and spent their last few years together in the same room, where they were well cared for, their children say.

"When my dad died, they took a chair out of the room so they could push their beds together, so my mom could hold his hand," Janet said.

The family is planning a joint memorial service this week for Ron and Ral. Memorial services will be 10:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 28, at Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service.

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