Banquet to be held in honor of FF Ralph Geidel

Brianne Fleming  Times Herald

The 18th annual Morganton Elk’s Lodge Harley Raffle is being dedicated to a man who is not only last year’s winner, but an American hero who encouraged people to “never forget” the heroes of 9/11.

Ralph Geidel, family photo

Ralph Geidel, family photo

Ralph Geidel, who won a 2014 Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom motorcycle at last year’s raffle banquet, moved to Connelly Springs in April of last year to be closer to his son and grandchildren. He traveled back and forth to Seiad Valley, California, where his wife resides. It wasn’t long before people heard of his unforgettable history.

He spent months at Ground Zero as a retired Rescue Co. 1 New York City Fire Department firefighter after the September 11 terrorist attacks, searching for the remains of his 44-year-old brother, Gary Geidel, and others who were missing in the World Trade Center rubble. He never found his brother, or many of the victims he longed to return to their grieving families.

Now it’s Geidel who will never be forgotten. He died unexpectedly Oct. 21, leaving behind a legacy and impact on many people.

Morganton Elks Lodge member Alan Brown said it was important to the organization to dedicate this year’s raffle to Geidel and recognize his family at the banquet, since he was an enthusiastic winner with a memorable story.

“He was probably the most excited and happy person about winning that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been involved all 18 years,” he said. “With his sudden death, this just sort of seemed like the natural thing to do.”

His son, Ralph Geidel Jr., said he and his wife, Norma Jean, and their 12-year-old daughter, Patricia, are excited to attend the Elk’s banquet in his honor. Patricia will be drawing the winning tickets.

“I’m honored that they thought of us,” Geidel said. “I was shocked they wanted to do that, having only met him for a brief time. They didn’t treat us like any other person who won a motorcycle, and that was really cool. It tells me they are really stand-up guys.”

He also has been touched about all the outreach he’s received from the community following his father’s death, including multiple Facebook messages and phone calls.

“(They all were) just saying how good of a guy he was,” he said. “They remember meeting him just one time, and they may have been having a horrible day, and they always left with a smile. No matter how bad your day was, he always kept it positive.”

Times have been very tough since Geidel lost his father, but what keeps him and his family going is keeping in mind that he’d want them to have a positive view on life. He almost dropped out of college after his father’s death, but knew it wasn’t what he would want for him.

“I kept going, and whenever things get hard and I feel like quitting, I think of him, and I know what he’d tell me — to never quit,” he said. “That’s what kept him digging at the (9/11) site. There’s only one direction and it’s forward. You have to keep moving.”

His father also was heard of around the country, being that he found himself in the spotlight after September 11. In 2006, he was a guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, where he openly said that they were still finding body parts in the rubble five years later. He was on the news for interviews several times, and is featured on the cover of the book Requiem: Images of Ground Zero by Gary Marlon Suson. A simple Google search brings up several images and references to sources on him as well.

There also is now a whole section dedicated to his father at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, where he is credited with the most identified remains, Geidel said. After his death, his helmet was moved to the front of the first responder helmets, and there are photographs and pictures of him on display.

His father still struggled with the scars that haunted him more than 13 years later, including a throat cancer diagnosis from breathing in the toxic Trade Center fumes, post-traumatic stress disorder and night terrors. Despite all he’d endured, everyone who knew him admired his positive outlook on life. He cherished the little things, and more than anything, he encouraged people to “never forget” his brother and all of the rescue workers, victims and families impacted by the tragedy on September 11.

Geidel said he carries on knowing that his father would want to be remembered — not forgotten, along with all of the other first-responder heroes.

“A big part of his whole thing was remembering, whether it be September 11 or the victims’ families or first responders who are all dying of cancer,” he said. “He wanted to make sure people don’t forget.

“I know, without a doubt, (he would want) to be remembered, not forgotten.”

The Elk’s Harley Raffle banquet will be held Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $100 and include dinner for two. The grand prize this year is a 2015 Harley Davidson Low Rider FXDL, $2,000 cash for the second place winner and six $500 cash prizes. For more information on ticket sales, call Brown at 828-413-4007.

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