Purple Heart recipient Ralph Poe loved animals and farming

Monday, December 31, 2012 | 6:51 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Whenever Debbie Poe felt homesick for Missouri while living in California, she would picture her family's 179-acre property south of Columbia. 

She would imagine sitting on the bluffs and looking out on the land with her father, Ralph Poe, with his dogs sitting beside them.


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"He could name all of the trees, and sometimes we'd find a natural spring and take a drink," Debbie Poe said. "It was really a piece of heaven on earth. I know I love the outdoors because of him." 

James "Ralph" Poe died on Dec. 27, 2012, in his home in northwest Columbia after a battle with lung cancer. He was 89.

Mr. Poe served in World War II, earning a Purple Heart after his company in the Army 84th Infantry Division was hit by enemy bombs at the Battle of the Bulge. He received shrapnel wounds to his eyes and upper body, and was transported to England for treatment.

"He was just not the kind to complain; he had probably seen such horror, but that was just him," Debbie Poe said. 

Shortly after returning to the United States, he met Christine Weldon in May 1948 on his family's tobacco farm, when his sister, Helen (Poe) Burr, tried to set her up with one of his older brothers.

"The brother Helen had her mind on was not the brother mom had her eyes on," Debbie Poe said. "The minute she saw dad, she knew. She wanted to be with him."

The two married seven months later. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on December 11. 

The Poe family raised cattle, grew tobacco and maintained a garden on their farm.

"He would've given everything he grew in that garden away if he could," daughter Kathy Rios said. "And those animals loved him too. He was like the pied piper — all of the animals would go down to the bluffs and follow him."

He loved the animals back. Years ago, one of the family's dogs discovered a calf lying in the field. He was a twin, so Mr. Poe named the pair Jack and Jill.

“He carried Jack back all the way from the field, and tried to get that momma to feed that calf," his wife, Christine Poe, said. "She didn’t want to, and so he was bottle fed his whole life. Ralph could always holler for Jack and that cow would come running. One of the hardest things he had to do was sell that cow.”

After being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Mr. Poe sold his land. Although he loved the farm, he couldn't bear to think of his wife living in debt, Debbie Poe said.

"He was practically born in the tobacco fields," Christine Poe said. "I know it was real hard on him when he had to retire." 

Debbie Poe quit her job as a nurse a month ago to take care of Mr. Poe. It was difficult to tell whether her father was in pain, she said, because he never complained.

"Just one of those guys that grew up during the Depression and didn't have much," Debbie Poe said. "He enjoyed all of the little things in life. They just don't make them like that anymore."

Mr. Poe is survived by his wife, Christine Poe; his children Jeannie Poe, Kathy Rios, Debbie Poe, and Mike Poe; a brother, Vic Poe; a sister, Helen Burr; grandchildren Christie Smith, Jason Gibson, Shauna Rios, Cody Rios, Logan Poe and Jenson Poe; and seven great-grandchildren.

A visitation will be held Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. A service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home. 

Online tributes may be left at the Memorial Funeral Home site.  

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