Days before he died at age 95, Ralph Boettger was honored by a color guard that marched into his hospice room and thanked him for his military service.
Boettger, a U.S. Navy veteran and avid singer, had been in many similar honor guards during his lifetime, visiting aging veterans in hospices and belting out tunes.
As members of the color guard at his bedside began to sing “God Bless America," Boettger lifted a hand and started directing them.
“Singing was my dad’s passion,” his son, Ralph Boettger Jr. of upstate Ithaca, said in an interview this week. “That moment made his life a perfect circle.”
The ceremony for his father, a former Newsday circulation manager and longtime Levittown resident, took place at his hospice in Lehigh Acres, Florida, on Nov. 7. He died three days later.
“Except for his singing, and his running, my dad was a typical dad,” his son said. “He coached in the Levittown Athletic Club, was active in the Quarterback Club booster program, Kiwanis and more.”
Boettger took up running when he was 50 in about 1972 when it had not yet become popular, and ran in every marathon he could, including those sponsored by Newsday.
He moved to Levittown and started work at Newsday in 1950, a few years after finishing his service with the U.S. Navy, and spent 35 years with the company before retiring as a circulation manager in 1985 and moving to Lehigh Acres with his wife, Margaret.
There, he developed a niche business picking up death certificates from area funeral homes and filing them with the local health authorities. He ran that business for 22 years before retiring for good.
Ralph Edward Boettger was born in 1922 in Holmes, Pennsylvania, the youngest of six children born to Anna and Arthur Boettger. His father died when Boettger was 10. He was sent to the Milton Hershey School, a home and school for orphan boys named for the chocolatier founder of the Hershey Company.
Arthur Boettger had been a railroad worker who composed music and played piano in his spare time. “From as early as he could remember, my father would sit and watch his dad compose music and he was determined to continue his father’s music,” Boettger Jr. said.
Ralph Boettger sang with the Levittown Community Church Choir and the Babylon Choir and acted and narrated plays. He also helped with the ceramic business run by his wife, who died in 2009.
In 2014, he met Gloria Yuhnke at the Fountain Crest Retirement Community and they married the next year when she was 78.
Along with his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Lisa Culver of Scottsdale, Arizona.
A memorial service was held at the hospice after his death, and another service will be held Sunday in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, before his ashes were taken out to sea and spread on the waters.