By Debbie Adams
When Paul Ribelin passed away on April 15, his obituary mentioned that “Paul had a passion for helping others.” Truer words have never been spoken of an individual. Paul helped his friends, his neighbors, his church, his community, and far beyond.
Ribelin made three mission trips to Alaska, one mission trip to Haiti, and accompanied the youth at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church on numerous Appalachian Service Project (ASP) trips.
“Paul was a hard worker at the church,” said Pastor B. Failes. “From treasurer to groundskeeper – whatever was needed he was willing to do. His annual fishing retreat was a blessing to the men who went.”
He served as a member of the Vinton Host Lions, working on many projects that benefitted the community and was a beloved Boy Scout leader. He worked at Burlington Industries (now PFG) for 33 years as quality control manager.
“Paul was a kind-hearted, genuinely good person,” said his friend Marvin Rose, who was a member of the mission team who traveled to Galena, Alaska, in July 2014. “I was proud to be his friend!”
The men traveled as part of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) organization that invites individuals “to share your talents to improve the world.”
Ribelin and Rose, along with Ribelin’s son Chip, spent 17 days working to build and remodel homes in the tiny village of Galena which had been destroyed by huge ice floes that backed up flood waters into the town and other villages along the Yukon River in May 2013.
Ninety percent of the homes in Galena were destroyed by the flooding, which lifted homes off their foundations. The situation and the need for immediate assistance in rebuilding were so dire that FEMA offered to fund the costs of bringing skilled, experienced volunteers, like Ribelin and Rose, to Alaska to aid in the recovery efforts. No amateurs allowed.
Their task was to remodel existing homes by putting in insulation, hanging sheetrock, installing doors and windows, hanging cabinets, replacing decks and steps, painting, and so on, and to construct several completely new homes.
The mission team remodeled from 13-17 houses and built four new “Cold Climate” kit houses constructed from prefab sections made up of walls, roof, and floor. FEMA required that all houses be constructed on stilts five to six feet off the ground to qualify for disaster relief.
Ribelin had helped construct a church on another trip to Alaska.
“I don’t even know where to begin to talk about Paul Ribelin,” said Bonnie Jones, Youth Director at Thrasher. “To have known him and to have spent time with him on mission trips and youth trips was a real blessing and I feel that I am a better person for having known him.
“He went with us to Appalachia many years with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP),” she said. “He did not have any of his own kids with him, they were grown by the time we started going, but all of the kids loved him and wanted to be on his team. He was an excellent leader and teacher for our youth. He was a mentor for confirmation class several times and this was something that the youth would choose – who their mentor would be.
“Paul went with us on youth trips as a chaperone and my favorite ‘Paul story’ is the year he agreed to chaperone our trip to Myrtle Beach. The first day we got down to the beach and had about 20 kids with us, Paul was a nervous wreck and kept saying ‘I can’t do this. How do you keep track of everyone?’ The second day we brought a chair with us for Paul to sit in and after about five minutes we looked over and he was sound asleep in his chair. We teased him the rest of the trip that he must have gotten over his initial nervousness!
“Paul Ribelin was a kind, funny, Godly man and he will be greatly missed,” Jones added.
In the early 1980s, Boy Scout Troop 18 in Vinton grew in membership to over 100 boys. Thirteen involved fathers, including Ribelin, Dwight Atkinson, Alex Martin, Glenn Lowe, Bill Houchins, Wayne Beaman, Larry Miles, Phil Bailey, Jim Williams, Tom Gisiner, Wayne Flippen, and Tom Jarvis and their sons split off to form a smaller group – Troop 3 – which met at Thrasher Memorial. The troop was led by Vinton orthodontist Dr. Rick Svitzer. Ribelin served as treasurer of the troop.
He and his good friend Roy Mabe set up a Christmas tree lot at the intersection of Bypass Road and Hardy Road where the CVS stands today. Each holiday season beginning at Thanksgiving the troop sold Christmas trees to raise money for their projects. Their supply of trees came from a Christmas tree farm Roy and his son Hal owned in North Carolina.
Each year, the Scouts set up a camper and sold trees to the community. Dave Jones, who knew Ribelin from both Thrasher and the Boy Scouts, said the Christmas tree sales basically financed the troop. No boys from Troop 3 ever had to come up with money for dues.
Ribelin continued as treasurer for many years – “he had a good mind for money” – and was an integral part of the troop.
“Paul was a quiet person, with not a lot to say, but lots of fun to be around,” said Jones. “The entire Scout group was phenomenal. The dads and sons would go on camping trips which were super fun.”
While many of the original fathers dropped out as their sons aged out of the troop, Ribelin maintained his presence long after his son Robbie had become an Eagle Scout. About 40 percent of the members of the troop went on to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.
“Paul loved being with the kids, and they loved being with him,” said Jones. “He was a very sharing person and an easy guy to work with.”
Jones recalls one Scout trip on the Thrasher church bus that included many of the dads and their sons. The motor blew up about 7:30 at night on their way to the beach. Unwilling to abandon their trip, the leaders decided to call a local school where a football game was in progress. The school sent out a bus that drove the group to the beach where they set up tents illuminated by the bus headlights. Jones says while they had found a way to the beach, they were basically stranded there until they called Henry Brabham of the Lancerlot back home, who sent the hockey bus to return them to Vinton.
“That is community right there,” said Jones. “That’s the kind and caring community we live in and that’s who Paul was. It happened over and over with this group and Paul was a quiet leader in the community, overlapping the Scouts, the church, the Lions Club, and more. He was just a great, great person.”
Ribelin was a member of the Vinton Host Lions Club for almost 30 years, joining in 1991, and served multiple terms as pre
sident of the organization. In 2014, he received the club’s highest honor – the Melvin Jones Award for his service to the Lions and the community.
Paul Ribelin is survived by his wife of 55 years, Charlie, their sons Chip, Robbie, and Bryan, and five grandchildren.