On April 22, Ralph Rockamann and his wife Kathy were behind the serving line at the fish fry at Our Lady of Pillar Church in Creve Coeur. The parish priest rushed in and told everyone , and they were moving to the gym to be near thick walls. Tornadoes had been spotted in the area.
A short period passed, and the priest, noting a brief respite, dismissed all of the diners, urging them to quickly seek shelter at home. The Rockamanns raced home and headed to the basement.
“That’s when I got the call from our daughter, Mollie, 29, she was holed up in her basement in her home in Ferguson,” Ralph Rockamann said.
A tree came crashing down onto her home, crushing the family room. She had no power and her cellphone was low on battery.
“There was nothing I could do until the next morning. Streets were blocked by debris and fallen trees and downed electrical lines,” he said.
Rockamann lives in Ladue, but his heart is still in Ferguson. For the past 38 years, he’s headed the family-owned business Sportsprint in that city. He grew up in this North County community and graduated from McCluer High School. He’s been pitching in for the welfare of Ferguson for years.
A self-appointed Federal Emergency Management Administration volunteer, Rockamann, 61, sprang into action.
And that’s no easy chore. He’s is battling a rare form of lymphoma cancer which nearly took his life five years ago. A chemotherapy patient, he’s endured months of treatment at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Facing the prospects of death, he’s been given last rites on several occasions. He was told he’d never walk again as a result of the effects of the drugs, but with the aid of a cane, he still does.
Mollie, who maintains an organic farm in Ferguson, is one of the lucky ones. Although her home was damaged, others were ruined.
More than 600 homes were heavily damaged in the city, and 70 were totally destroyed.
Last week, Rockamann organized an impromptu radio show-fundraiser out of his store in conjunction with KFNS Sports Talk Radio. Frank Cusumano and Martin Kilcoyne came to his rescue. Baseball luminaries, the Cardinals Smoke Joe Cunningham, former Brownies Roy Sievers and others pitched in.
Rockamann works closely with Ferguson’s young administrative team, Mayor James Knowles and City Manager John Shaw. They are pushing for cash donation to the Feguson Relief Fund.
Cash donations should be presented to United Missouri Bank, No. 1 Church St., Ferguson, 63135. Checks should be made payable to the Ferguson Foundation.
Saturday, May 21 has been designated a major work day in Ferguson. Volunteers are desperately needed to clean yards and businesses.
The cleanup day runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and volunteers will gather at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Ferguson, 333 N. Florissant Rd. Volunteers should come dressed appropriately for work, wear boots and bring equipment such as rakes, shovels, wheel barrows and trimmers. No children under the age of 16 are allowed to help. The contact is Linda Lipka, 314-973-2954. An email address has been established at email@example.com.
That same day, Ferguson residents will hold the largest garage sale in community history with 100 percent of the proceeds going to relief efforts.
“The devastation I first saw on that Saturday morning was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It's much worse than you can imagine. Everyone needs to pitch in and help,” Rockamann said.
And donors will receive a free T-shirt with “We are Ferguson” on the front and “Volunteer” on the back. T-shirts were donated free of charge by Sportsprint.
Editor's note: Many Patch editors and their family members will join the cleanup efforts on May 21.