Guest Blogger Kyle Ruffin invites us to take inspiration from a family friend who’s passion has landed him national attention. At 72, living his purpose keeps him going strong.
Since I was 10, I’ve known my father’s best friend Ralph Hunter and in many ways, he has been like family. He has always enjoyed life and sharing what he loves with the people around him. This summer, I had the very special privilege of accompanying him to a taping of a promotional documentary for the HBO Series “Boardwalk Empire.” He was selected to be interviewed because of his infectious passion for collecting African American memorabilia. It was this passion that lead to him being considered an expert on African American life in Atlantic City during the Prohibition years during which the show takes place.
I don’t know how long Ralph has been collecting African American memorabilia, but by his collection, it seems like it would have to be decades. His collection is so large, that he used it to found the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey.
From my vantage point, Ralph seems to ride the tide of his passion, and what I find striking is the way it carries him through really tough times. In just the last few years, he has lost a son, been diagnosed with prostate cancer that lead to surgery, had bypass surgery, broke his wrist, had shoulder surgery, has logged hundreds and hundreds of miles to be by the side of a dear friend who had a stroke, and much, much more.
If I had to define this 72-year-old’s life over these years, none of those things would come to mind. His passion for collecting and sharing African American heritage with school children and anyone else who will listen has reigned supreme. He hasn’t let any of the things that would emotionally debilitate many stop him from doing whatever he can to follow his dream.
Ralph is living proof that if you live your passion, opportunity comes to you. He hasn’t been out obnoxiously self-promoting his cause. He has not bought millions in advertising. Sometimes I find myself reminding him that it’s okay to ask for money for the museum to fund his dream. But he feels rewarded by knowing that he has filled a gap – giving African Americans families who’ve lived in South Jersey for generations a place to donate their photos, family movies, print periodicals and other items that keep their legacies alive.
He has become “known.” He has become “the expert.” He is the go-to guy when African American history in South Jersey takes the spotlight. His love for African American culture has placed him square in the national media spotlight. In many ways, I’m jealous that I don’t have a passion tide to carry me through the moments that feel more like work or obligation. But, rather than looking at his “have” as my “have not,” I’m choosing to ride his wave of joy and share him with you. He is what it means to “live and lead with a spirit of purpose.” He is a living example of the “laws of attraction,” putting his energy out there in a way that attracts the things that keep his passion alive.
If you want to meet Ralph, check out HBO’s documentary “Atlantic City: Original City of Sin.” He’s the guy with the bowtie and funky hat! Or check out the NY Times article “On the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Other Stories Remain to Be Told.” Or his most recent appearance on WHYY Philadelphia’s Coming of Ages.
And whatever inspiration you can take from Ralph’s legacy, please do. He is a Spirit of Purpose.