By Mary Ellen Slone
Ron died of lung cancer in April of 2013. At the time of his death, Ron was both the Chief Operating Officer for BHG (Bluegrass Hospitality Group), and the immediate past Chairman of the Kentucky Restaurant Association. Because of the enormously positive impact that Ron had on so many people, a sizeable group of individuals have committed themselves to not only preserving, but also to perpetuating his legacy. Their methodology: to create a series of unique events honoring his life and benefitting the University of Kentucky’s Childrens’ Hospital. The Live Like Ron Foundation was born.
The inaugural event was staged earlier this year. A check for $15,000 was proudly presented in Ron’s name to the Kentucky Children’s Hospital to help facilitate the “Rager Room”, a special play area for youngsters too young to visit patients in the hospital.
Ron was a gentleman who dressed impeccably and chose stylish ties to complement his appearance. In a fashion that Ron would have enjoyed, his friends hosted the “Tie One on For Ron” event, where many of the female attendees learned to tie a Windsor Knot using one of the ties from Ron’s personal collection. This was a standing room only evening—with close to 250 individuals in attendance. According to BHG’s Stephanie Bork, “This one special evening showcased how many lives were touched by this incredibly humble man.” The recollections of those in attendance were simultaneously touching and humorous: “Ron gave freely of his time, his resources, his contagious smile, and his willingness to help those in need, and he never asked for or expected anything in return”, said Bork.
Going forward there are plans underway to make the “Tie One On For Ron” event an annual fundraiser. For so many individuals whose lives were blessed by his presence, it will continue as an opportunity to perpetuate his kindnesses to support the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
To mention Ron Rager in virtually any hospitality-related gathering is an open invitation to learn of other individuals he helped during his all-too-brief time on earth. Local radio/TV personality DeAnn Stephens was a close friend of Ron’s. “Ron was always supportive of others; if he knew you were sick, he’d bring you soup; if you were sad, he’d volunteer to cheer you up. He gave his time selflessly to many individuals and causes, and he never asked for, or was comfortable with, any sort of recognition in return”, she said. DeAnn’s two young daughters were ‘best buddies’ with Ron and his death has been predictably difficult for them to accept and understand.
One of the many initiatives Ron established in the Central Kentucky community was a partnership with the Blessings in a Backpack program, where local children who might otherwise go without lunch during the school day are provided with nourishing meals to enjoy with their classmates, and are provided with edibles to eat at home over the weekend. This outreach has been very successful within our community, thanks to many individuals, companies, and churches—all of whom share their blessings with those who would have little or nothing do eat otherwise. Ron was generous in his support, not only of this incredibly thankful charity, but also of many others--often doing so anonymously. He always encouraged his friends and co-workers to do the same.
Within the local/regional food service community, Ron Rager was exceptionally well respected; he knew the industry, he understood and taught how great food and great service were not just expected, but were imperative if any restaurant was to succeed long term. He’d often remind his staff that, “Our guests are here to be served promptly and politely as well as to enjoy a great ‘we’ll be back!’ experience, be it a cup of fresh cup of coffee, a glass of fine wine, or a full course dinner; these individuals have chosen to dine with us, and we want them to know we appreciate them.”
Pay it Forward
If you were lucky enough to have been given an opportunity to meet this humble man, he likely gave you some small cards on which were inscribed the following:
“THIS IS A GOOD DEED CARD.
Pay it forward.”
Still in use by the Live Like Ron Foundation, when you receive a card, you’re encouraged to pay it forward by first doing a good deed, and then passing it on. Imagine a large group of people accepting the challenge. In doing so, you would have kept, unbroken, the chain of good deeds which were the hallmarks of Ron’s life. Perpetuating his memory in as many ways as is a labor of love for so many individuals whose lives were made better because of having met Ron.