Ralph Muecke, a man in his 70s of Gladstone, has been identified by friends as the second Stark County victim of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Speaking with The Press, they remember him as a man committed to his faith and civic duties.
On April 1, Muecke's church announced to its congregation that he was in an intensive care unit and had tested positive for COVID-19. He was ill at least two weeks prior to his death, according to his pastor, Brian Davidson.
"I was actually at his home two weeks ago yesterday, and he was in bed and Louise (his wife) told me that he had the flu," Davidson said.
Davidson said Muecke was a faithful member of the congregation.
"Personally, Ralph was a very good friend of mine," he said. "I count my time with Ralph as one of the friendships that I made here in Dickinson that I will really miss . . . Ralph was a patriot. He was a man who loved this country and was not ashamed of that."
Former Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich, who attended the same church, found out Muecke was ill from the church's prayer chain.
"Ralph was a very committed man to different causes, and one of the things that Ralph had a real heart for was to do what he could to lead people to believe in Jesus," Oestreich said. "That’s what I remember most about Ralph . . . He loved the Lord. I know where he’s at."
Oestreich, who is the current president of the local chapter of Gideon International, which places Bibles in motels, said Muecke had also been a Gideon.
According to Davidson, some members of the congregation will drive by Muecke's ranch tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. to give Muecke's widow a "little encouragement from a distance."
"I thought it was pretty sweet to do that. I don’t know how many people will be involved, but I think it’s a nice gesture," he said.
Ralph Muecke was a chairman of the resolutions committee for the Stark County Farm Bureau. As part of that group he participated in activities such as Free Meat Monday, for which he served lunch to students at elementary schools in Dickinson.
"He was so excited when he got appointed as one of the board members of the local Farm Bureau board. He just reveled in that kind of atmosphere," said long-time friend and political ally Leon Mallberg.
Ralph Muecke was heavily involved in local and state government.
Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, recalled a Mark Twain quote often repeated by Muecke, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."
Turning belief of the words into action, Muecke could often be found testifying at legislative sessions, many times alongside Leon Mallberg.
"I remember many times he and I driving to Bismarck to go to the legislative session to testify … Ralph was undoubtedly the most sincere witness at any of those hearings," Mallberg said.
When he wasn't at the Legislature, Muecke could often be found with a clipboard in his hand.
"If there was a worthy conservative cause to get signatures for, you could usually get Ralph to go get a few hundred, or a few thousand on his own," Gawrylow said.
Mallberg said Muecke was most comfortable walking the streets with a petition.
"He was always thorough in telling what the petition was about and what the potential results would be, and why it was being brought to the attention of the voter," he said. "That is such an important part of doing petition drives. You can’t just go out willy-nilly. You have to be prepared. You have to be able to answer questions that you hadn’t anticipated, and Ralph was that kind of a person."
"It was not just because he was always involved with measures," Gawrylow said. "It was because Ralph wanted to do his part to make sure that future generations have the same rights as he did (and did not have to jump through impossible hoops to practice those rights). To Ralph, this cause was not a partisan one. In fact, most of the time he ended up fighting his fellow Republicans on the issue."
Muecke's health had been failing for the last two to three years, according to Mallberg, who said Muecke had "significant medical conditions," but that didn't stop Muecke from participating in what would become his last major effort at the state fair in Minot - fighting to protect initiated measure with an imitated measure.
"It almost exhausted him to get from the car in the parking lot to the pavilion where they had a booth for signatures, but he was bound and determined to be there and to try and complete the drive and explain to citizens why it was happening. I respect Ralph greatly for his position," Mallberg said.
He believed very strongly in civic involvement, traveling as far as Nebraska to help citizens petition.
"He was always learning about what was going on in surrounding states, as far as two and three states away," Mallberg said. "He was always trying to read what was happening there - what were the citizens ... concerned about? That kind of person is very rare. Most of the time we get so wrapped up in our own little cocoon."
Ralph Muecke's name is probably familiar to readers of the opinion pages of The Dickinson Press and other state newspapers. He's submitted numerous letters to the editor on topics ranging from the initiative and referral process to property tax.
Mallberg said Muecke would almost always call him before he sent a letter, asking him to listen to it and make suggestions before he sent it.
"I would make minor suggestions or tell him about the pitfalls of a potential position or how he should inoculate himself from the opposition," Mallberg said. "He would take those into account; however, I always ended the conversation with, ‘This is your letter. I am only giving you my opinion. You use it as you see fit.’ He respected that, but sometimes he would get wrapped up in the fervor, and I would have to kind of pull him back just a little bit or take out one inflammatory word … and I just said, ‘Ralph, what you have to do ... you have to make sure that you don’t alienate your friends.’ I said, ‘Sometimes words hurt,’ and he took that to heart."
Mallberg said he is proud to have known Muecke.
"Ralph can be confident in the fact that he did way more than the average citizen to make sure that government was being critiqued at the citizen level."
Jared Hendrix, chairman of District 38 Republicans, posted a photo of himself with Muecke, along with a brief tribute, to his Facebook page.
"Ralph was a great patriot and fierce advocate for liberty and true conservative principles. He was a real citizen's watchdog, and he fought tirelessly without compensation to keep elected officials accountable," it reads.