This is part of a weekly series introducing readers to individuals who are passionate about our Mid-Valley community.
Every Thursday for the past 30 years, Ralph Dungey of Keizer has made sure more than a dozen of his neighbors get a hot meal through the local Meals on Wheels program.
For years, his wife helped him deliver meals around town. Since her death, his stepson Curt has been his assistant.
Dungey, now 97, was born in 1925 and was raised on a small farm in Fairfield, a small Marion County community nearly 6 miles from St. Paul that no longer exists. It remains marked by a sign that Dungey said the community requested.
“Otherwise those kinds of places disappear,” he said.
There were never more than 24 people at his school and a single teacher for all grades.
During wartime, the Fairfield children were bussed to Gervais High School. He laughs remembering how small the high school was compared to what it has transformed into. He was drafted during his senior year, joining troops in the Army’s 76th Division during World War II.
He was deployed to England, Belgium, Germany and Japan.
A Purple Heart honors the only time he was wounded, he said, shot near the German border in 1945.
“The bomb, it probably saved my life,” he said.
After the end of World War II, he moved to Keizer in 1950. He met and married Mary, the mother of his three daughters. The couple quickly settled into the community and Dungey still lives in the house that was built just for them in 1956.
After his first wife died of cancer in her 50s, Dungey was alone for five years. To pass the time, he joined various clubs, including the Chemekata hiking club.
It was on a hike on Saddle Mountain that he met Dorothy. He remembers approaching her at the top of the hike. He shared lunch with her and learned that she had been a divorcee for 10 years.
“I thought, well, worth a try,” he said.
The two were married for 30 years. He remembers lots of trips they took together, traveling all around the country and world. The two were also very involved in their church, the Church of the Nazarene.
In 1992, Dungey had already retired from his career as an auto mechanic. He’d worked for four decades repairing cars at his uncle’s Studebaker dealership and working on other cars like Rambler and Packard. He remembered someone at the church informed the couple that Meals on Wheels was looking for more volunteers.
The two committed to volunteering and began a “habit” that continues for Dungey to this day.
When Dorothy was diagnosed with cancer, it was important for Dungey to continue delivering meals. Near the end of her life, her son Curt would make the drive to Keizer to take care of her on Thursdays while Dungey continued to volunteer.
Dorothy died Oct. 17, 2017.
In the five years since her death, Curt has taken Dorothy’s place as Dungey’s partner on deliveries.
With Ralph behind the wheel, Curt usually gets out to deliver the meals. Together, they deliver about 16 meals every week to those in need. And after they are done with their route, the two grab lunch together. It’s routine.
Dungey said he is grateful to still be able to volunteer.
“I look forward to seeing the people down at the senior center,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to have something to do.”
How to help, get help
The Marion Polk Food Bank oversees the Meals on Wheels program for Salem and Keizer area residents.
Meals are delivered between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an option of having frozen meals delivered Friday for the weekend. Meals include a hot main dish, vegetables, salad, a roll and a dessert.
Meals can be purchased for $5 per meal, but there are programs that cover some or all of those costs for many qualifying residents.
Volunteers are needed to assist with driving, meal preparation, office support and distribution support. To volunteer, visit marionpolkfoodshare.org/programs/meals-on-wheels/driver/ to fill out an online application, call 503-364-2856 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have an idea for someone we should profile for this series, please email Statesman Journal senior news editor Alia Beard Rau at email@example.com.