County icon and businessman Ralph Elden “Ralph the Tire Man” Cockerill passed away Monday, leaving behind a legacy and lots of love for his community.
Ralph, age 78, of New Holland, passed away on Monday, April 17 at 3:33 a.m. at the Riverside Methodist Hospital.
He was born on July 1, 1938 in Fayette County to Robert C. and Bernice Miller Cockerill and was a 1956 graduate of Greenfield McClain High School. He was self-employed for 57 years in Washington Court House as Ralph The Tire Man and was the only man around known to sell his tires on a lease.
“(Ralph and his employees) have been longtime chamber members and he and his wife Betty were regulars at all of the chamber events,” Fayette County Chamber of Commerce President Whitney Gentry said. “We will certainly miss him. He has a reputation for being an upstanding business person in the community and a very caring person. He will be missed by a lot of people. I knew Ralph to always be happy, caring and very supportive of charities and organizations in the community. Ralph always wanted to do what was right.”
After his passing, his wife Betty Jo Jordan Cockerill (whom he married on Dec. 19, 1960), took time to talk about her husband and said that Ralph would be “tickled” to know that a story was being done about him.
“He helped young people, after about 16-years-old and on, to establish their credit,” Cockerill said. “With no cosigners or parents to help they would come in to Ralph and he would tell them ‘If you promise to pay me, I can get your credit started,’ after no one would help them. He helped people with no or bad credit and sometimes they would cry after because they had never had new tires and would now be able to go out of town, they don’t have to worry. He was just so giving. He would have people who would come to the shop and say that they were hungry because they hadn’t eaten for a couple days. It may have been someone who didn’t even have a home, and he would get into his pocket and give them enough money so they could get themselves a good meal.”
If all of his charity work and general attitude wasn’t enough proof, his wife as well as special friend and longtime employee Paul “Ralph Jr.” Desanto said that Ralph loved his community.
“He loved the community and loved the people,” Cockerill said. “He was all out a great person. He never went to church…the reason why he didn’t is because church people would come in and write bad checks so he said he wouldn’t go to church, but he was religious. The first thing he would do when he woke up is pick up the paper and check to see who was having fundraisers and he would try to go to every one of them. He really loved the church meals and went to every church meal they had. He loved his business, he loved people, he loved to chat and visit, loved to joke and would even say insulting things to people and I would get embarrassed, but they would just laugh and say, ‘That’s just Ralph. We know he is joking and we love it.’”
Friends may visit Summers Funeral Home on Thursday evening from 4 to 8 p.m. The funeral service will be held on Friday, April 21 at the Summers Funeral Home with Danny Dodds officiating with burial to follow at the Cochran Cemetery.
Among the survivors listed in his obituary are his children, Sandy (Little Dragon) Little, and Jackie Forster; grandchildren, Cameron J. Forster, and Amanda M. Forster; and siblings, Nina J. Arnold, Rosealee Yeaworth, and Eldridge (Joan) Cockerill.
“I have been with Ralph for 28 years,” Desanto said Wednesday. “He had two daughters, but I was the son he never had. Everyone calls me Ralph Junior, he was my dad. He was a good guy for the community, helped out anyone who needed to be helped out. I came to work Monday and people were wondering why I was there and I said this is what my dad wanted. He wanted me to show up and work. We still have people that need us for right now, so we would like to get everyone situated and taken care of. He was a provider for the community and everyone appreciated what he did.”
Desanto said that the Ralph the Tire Man shop, located at 221 S. Hinde St., is still open, and that Ralph may not physically be there any longer, but he is there in spirit. They will be closed Thursday and Friday for the funeral, but after they are resuming their normal business hours to continue to serve the supportive community.
Desanto and Cockerill both thanked Fayette County and nearby communities for the many years of support. Cockerill also said that the current plan is to keep the shop open for six months as they try to handle current customers on lease and sell back inventory.
“As long as I am alive, Ralph the Tire Man will never die,” Desanto said.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy