Ralph Christian Dramstad, born and raised in rent controlled Queens, N.Y. tenements, remembers a peaceful life among mixed cultures with none of the gang warfare depicted in the musical “West Side Story.” The local retired general contractor adds, “We enjoyed living close together with our white, black, and Puerto Rican friends.” Ralph has created familiar surroundings in Washington where he restored the historic 1906 Hackney Buggy Building on West Third Street. He and wife Joanne feel at home in their loft retirement apartment.
Ralph’s parents emigrated from Norway just before World War Two and raised four kids in New York City. Ralph worked in construction when he married Joanne, yet found time to build a 37-foot trimaran sailboat, “Valkyrie Maiden.” The couple lived aboard for a year of pleasant floating memories while managing their five-family tenement, populated at various times by Spaniards, Dutch, German, Chinese, and Norwegians. Feeling the itch to start a family and his own construction business, Ralph sold the boat and apartment building to move closer to Joanne’s family in Washington, NC.
Over the past 40 years, Ralph’s general construction company has built many local projects, including: Grace Lutheran church’s new building; The Willows at the west end of 2nd Street; The Candy Kitchen downtown (presently Edward Jones Investments); an addition to Beaufort Community College; Yankee Hall Plantation’s restoration and its new adjoining building; and Fitness Unlimited in the old K-Mart building. He currently operates a restoration consultation business.
When asked what he does with his time, Ralph says, “We enjoy traveling. We have been to weddings in Medellin, Colombia; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Oslo, Norway. We both prefer colder climates. Alaska was enjoyable, but my favorite locales are geothermally active Norway and Iceland.” Ralph adds, “Norway is affordable as we have lots of family to stay with from Oslo to Stavanger. We always take bathing suits as Islanders enjoy swimming and meeting friends in their naturally heated pools!”
Ralph and Joanne also find time to visit their daughter, husband, and three grandchildren in their High Point, N.C. home. “It’s nice to have two doctors in the house,” Ralph adds, “but only if we need tooth repairs or more knowledge about the sciences.” Their daughter is a pediatric dentist in private practice while her husband is a High Point College professor.
Ralph remembers his Norwegian father, Alf, telling unforgettable horror stories of fighting with the U.S. Army during WWII. Alf was among the first troops to reach the infamous prison at Buchenwald and remembered one rescued survivor, Romanian-born Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel, who later became a Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor, and author of 57 books.
In June 2009, a Norwegian Army Captain, Knut Klovik Thoresen, contacted Ralph for help in obtaining pictures and information about his father, Alf Dramstad. Thoresen had just finished a book about Ralph’s 92 year-old Uncle Bjarne and now wanted to tell Alf’s story. Bjarne had chosen to fight with Hitler’s Norwegian Legion SS while brother Alf chose to fight with the U.S. Army. Thoresen wanted to tell how eight siblings were divided by the horrors of war and examine the lifelong effect on their families.
Ralph became a PWG member to add polish to his biographical essay about his father, a work that became a chapter in the Norwegian book, “A Soldier on the Western Front, A history of Alf Dramstad.” Ralph delivered his work to Norway during a 2009 visit and recently enjoyed showing PWG members the newly published Norwegian language tome.
Ralph currently has two writing projects. His short story “Free Nights at the Hedges Inn” tells the story of renovation of the Inn. Another project, “Saving the Candy Kitchen” is a story of the renovation of an historic building at West Main and Gladden Streets. You may read excerpts of these works at the PWG website, www.pamlicowritersgroup.org.