Ralph and Helen Force: A Lifetime of Sharing - Spring 2003 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Spring 2003

Ralph and Helen Force

A Lifetime of Sharing

As they approach their 60th wedding anniversary, Ralph and Helen Force wouldn't trade their lifestyle with anyone.

That lifestyle includes relaxation in a variety of forms. They derive enjoyment from entertaining friends at their home, dining at Blair County restaurants and attending a variety of cultural events, particularly Altoona Symphony Orchestra concerts.

They've considered taking extended vacations in the U.S. and abroad, but their hearts rarely allow them to stray far from Blair County. With so many interests fulfilled within their own hometown, it's no surprise to find that Ralph and Helen usually venture just a short distance from their Altoona home.

Whether they are serving as gracious hosts during a pleasant evening of socializing with friends, swimming laps in their pool, caring for several dozen house plants, offering special attention to their standard poodle, Peter D, or simply kicking back in their game room, the Forces are sharing quality time in an environment that offers them the peace and comfort they desire.

While finding joy and contentment in life's simple pleasures, the Forces also have garnered tremendous satisfaction from acts of kindness and generosity that they've extended to employees of Ralph's company, Electric Motor & Supply, Inc., members of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra and Penn State Altoona. It certainly is not an exaggeration to say that, over the years, Penn State Altoona has become part of the Forces' extended family.

Neither Ralph nor Helen attended the College, but they long have appreciated the many ways that Penn State Altoona adds to the quality of life in the region. The Forces believe strongly that when local students are provided with a quality education at an area institution which receives support, financial and otherwise, from the community at large, everyone benefits in the short and long term.

Recently, the Forces demonstrated their overwhelming commitment to Penn State Altoona with the presentation of a substantial gift to the Grand Destiny Campaign. The gift follows a $750,000 donation in 1995 that created an endowment to support Penn State Altoona's bachelor's degree program in electro-mechanical engineering technology. The Ralph and Helen Force Advanced Technology Center stands in tribute to the vision of these generous benefactors.

"Ralph and Helen have presented two of the largest gifts ever received at Penn State Altoona," said Dr. William G. Cale, Jr., CEO and Dean. "Their support has allowed us to greatly enhance our programs and facilities. Future generations will benefit from their financial support. Those of us who know them benefit from their warmth and genuine concern for others. They are truly wonderful people who are making a difference in the world."

The Forces also have long supported the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, and not just through subscriptions. In April, the couple, for the second time, opened their home to the entire orchestra, offering an evening of socializing and catered fare. Ralph noted that the reception is his way of thanking the performers for all the enjoyment they have provided to him and Helen over the years. Similarly, the Forces' gifts to Penn State Altoona reflect their appreciation for all the College represents in their lives.

The Forces have witnessed firsthand Ivyside Park's remarkable transformation from an amusement park with the world's largest concrete swimming pool to a residential four-year college campus complete with state-of-the-art facilities.

"When I look over the pond, I can still picture what it used to look like," Mr. Force remarked fondly.

Although the Forces both graduated from Altoona High School in 1941, they never had an occasion to meet there. Their courtship commenced after formal introductions by a mutual friend, but Ralph soon departed Altoona for service in the Air Force and Helen accepted a secretarial position in the Transportation Division at the Pentagon. Ironically, both would serve their country working on highly classified projects.

Distance offered little impediment to the blossoming romance. One week in November 1943, Helen traveled alone from Washington, D.C., to Ralph's base in Missouri and they exchanged wedding vows. Their respective responsibilities for the military left no time for a honeymoon, however, and Helen was back at work in the nation's capital two days later.

During World War II, Ralph flew secret missions in the Asiatic Theater, not only piloting aircraft, but also serving as a navigator and communications specialist. He totaled 1,215 flight hours and was decorated often for his service. Many times his crews narrowly avoided explosives planted by the enemy near landing strips in the Pacific. During one landing on a badly damaged island runway northwest of New Guinea, Mr. Force and his crew were forced to eject when the wheels hit a crater. The entire crew survived, but Mr. Force suffered serious injuries to his back and was hospitalized for several weeks.

Thousands of miles away, Helen was assisting Allied personnel at the newly opened Pentagon.

"When I moved to Washington, it was my first time away from home," Helen recalled. "My mother had insisted that I take the position, to get out and see the world. I didn't exactly see the world, but it was quite an experience to see all the military personnel."

Ralph was employed by his father's company, Force Electric, before founding Electric Motor & Supply, Inc., (EMS) in 1956. As chief executive officer, Ralph directs the operations of a company that has served industrial clients from surrounding states for more than 40 years. EMS specializes in repairing electric motor controls and motors.

With the success of the company, the Forces remained ever grateful to the company's employees and to the community in which EMS flourished. Their devotion to Penn State Altoona extends beyond mission statements, buildings and curriculums, centering on the administrators, staff, faculty and students who make the campus a living, breathing entity.

"We like the people at the University and get along well with them," Helen said. "We enjoy giving to the University."

The Forces have many interests. In addition to regular attendance at Symphony concerts, Ralph fishes and operates a ham radio, and Helen is active with the Hollidaysburg and Altoona libraries. Helen also spends part of every day tending to nearly 50 house plants, with the ever-faithful Peter D by her side.

The Forces are living each day to the fullest, content spending time on projects and activities that provide personal joy; content supporting musicians who enrich the cultural life of the community; and content creating opportunities for Penn State Altoona students who will impact the world in years to come.

It's little wonder why the Forces wouldn't trade their lifestyle with anyone.