Weaverville - Ralph M. Feemster, a native of Asheville who loved his family, his work and the game of golf, died at St. Joseph's Hospital on Feb. 21 of complications related to blood cancer. He was 86.
Mr. Feemster was born in Asheville on February 5, 1927, the son of Clough Harmon Feemster and Mary Alma Bankhead Feemster. He served in the U.S. Navy
after graduating from Lee H. Edwards High School in 1943. He began a long career in the U.S. Postal Service in 1945.
He met his future wife, Vida Johnston Brown Feemster, in first grade at Eugene Rankin School in Asheville. They grew up together in West Asheville and graduated from high school in the same class. After returning from service in the U.S. Navy, he courted her for five years. They were married in October 1950.
Mr. Feemster always worked. He delivered newspapers as a boy, jerked sodas at Bilbro's Drug Store in high school and worked at the Asheville Citizen Times as a copy boy. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, he began a long career with the US Postal Service in the Postal Accounts Division, which had offices in the Grove Arcade Building in Asheville.
Not long after the Feemsters were married, the Postal Service offered Mr. Feemster a promotion to join one of 10 newly created regional payroll offices around the country. When he took the list of new offices home, his wife said she would be happy to go anywhere but Minneapolis. Minnesota was too cold.
Meanwhile, Mr. Feemster's boss in Asheville planned to move to Minneapolis and asked him to go along. He talked about the great fishing in Minnesota's lakes and promised him a central role in the new office. Eight months after they were married, the Feemsters shipped their belongings to Minneapolis and caught a ride to their new home with another couple moving up north. They lived in a hotel for several months because housing was still tight, before finding an apartment in someone's home. They took the streetcar to work and saved money to buy a home. Mr. Feemster worked additional jobs as a consultant to the Hennepin County Auditor and to Land 'O' Lakes Creamery in Minneapolis.
Over the next three decades, Mr. Feemster held a number of management positions at the Postal Service. He was appointed Director of the Minneapolis Postal Data Center in 1965. He helped convert the Postal Service Payroll System from a manual system in each post office to the regional system with ten offices. By the 1970s, the other nine offices had been closed and Mr. Feemster's facility in Fort Snelling, Minn. had become a centralized national office that paid 800,000 employees every two weeks.
In his spare time, Mr. Feemster was a Cub Scout pack leader for Pack 193 at Armitage Elementary School. The Pinewood Derby was a big Cub Scout event at that time. He helped his sons, Ron and Dave, build toy race cars with Pinewood Derby kits and was mildly embarrassed, as pack leader, when his own sons won the races three different years.
His family fondly remembers the big brick grill and the strawberry patch in the back yard of their home in southwest Minneapolis. Every year, Mr. Feemster threw a party for neighborhood children from blocks around. He served all the hot dogs and homemade ice cream they could eat. The kids were happy to crank the ice cream maker by hand.
The Postal Service had asked him to move to Minneapolis and they eventually asked him to move on. In January 1979, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster General, Management Information Systems Department. At the time, he was the youngest person ever to have been appointed an officer of the Postal Service. At first, he was reluctant to leave Minnesota. He commuted to Washington every week. He and his wife moved to Annandale, Va. in 1979. In 1983, about the time he became eligible for retirement, he was asked to establish the National Information Systems Development Center in Raleigh, N.C. He was initially reluctant to take the job because he was not allowed to hire the employees he wanted. When he announced his retirement in 1983, the USPS reconsidered his requests. He took the job and managed that facility until he retired in 1988.
Mr. Feemster had learned to golf on the course at Fort Snelling, a public course that he could see from the windows of the payroll center in Minnesota. In Raleigh, he was a member of the North Ridge Country Club. In his first year of retirement he played 300 rounds of golf.
Throughout his life, Mr. Feemster always wanted to return to the mountains of North Carolina. He and his wife moved back to Asheville in 1997. Since moving to Asheville he has been a member of the Black Mountain Golf Club. He played three times a week with the Geritol group, a group of gentlemen golfers who like to talk about shooting their age. When he stopped playing in the summer of 2012, he believed he was the oldest active member of the group.
He is survived by his wife, Vida Johnston Brown Feemster and two sons, Ronald Craig Feemster of Lander, Wyo. and David Scott Feemster of Wausau, Wisc., who is married to the former Lorna Rock of Stratford, Wisc. He has three grandchildren, Lauren, Martha and John, children of David and Lorna. He has a niece, Nancy June Feemster Rymer and her husband, Franklin Rymer, of Salt Lake City, Utah. He was preceded in death by his brother, C. H. Feemster, in 1998.
Mr. Feemster rarely ended a phone call or an email with his grandchildren without telling them how proud they made him. He generously shared his memories of World War II
with them, and was doubly proud when they used those interviews for school history projects and received top grades. In Asheville, he was an active member of Central United Methodist Church and the Covenant Sunday School Class.
After retirement he continued to work part time. He sold watches at JC Penney's and later served as a court reporter for the Office of Administrative Hearings for the state of North Carolina. In 1995, he became a contractor for the Social Security Administration, working as a verbatim court reporter in Asheville. He has also worked for Kelly Temporary Services as a program manager for seminars held in hotels in the Asheville area. If there are part-time jobs in heaven, Mr. Feemster is sure to apply.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 2 at Central United Methodist Church, 27 Church St., in Asheville. A reception will follow the service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to Central United Methodist Church.
Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian is assisting the family and the memorial register is available at www.grocefuneralhome.com