Ralph A.L. Bogan, 90, banker, baseball fan, heli-skier
by maureen o’donnell Staff Reporter/Twitter: @suntimesobits firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2013 9:00PM
Updated: July 17, 2013 6:57AM
Ralph A.L. Bogan, a scion of the family that helped found the Greyhound bus company, carved out his own career in banking and became a co-owner of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.
Mr. Bogan, 90, died Sunday at his Lincoln Park Home, said his wife, Sarah Ellsworth Bogan.
He was born in Hibbing, Minn., where his father, also named Ralph, was a chief of Greyhound Lines. The bus company began when Swedish immigrant Carl Eric Wickman started giving rides to miners traveling between jobs. In 1915, Wickman and Mr. Bogan’s father partnered in the business.
The Bogans moved to Chicago when Greyhound was named the official transportation carrier for the 1933 World’s Fair. Greyhound was a smash at the “Century of Progress” extravaganza. It booked 2,000 hotel rooms at the fair, and bundled the rooms with bus tickets to Chicago. The gimmick promoted the company and earned more than half a million dollars.
Mr. Bogan attended Evanston Township High School; Choate Rosemary Hall prep school, and graduated from Lake Forest Academy in 1940. Named valedictorian, he was also awarded the Tucker Cup for being the best athlete and scholar at Lake Forest Academy, relatives said. He graduated from Dartmouth College and served in World War II on a destroyer, the USS Stephen Decatur.
After the war, he learned the business of Greyhound, from the steering wheel on up. In 1947, he drove a bus north on the newly minted Alaska Highway, “following the bulldozers to Fairbanks,” according to a family history.
He returned to Chicago and broke into the investment business at Dominick & Dominick and W.E. Hutton. He also sharpened his skills by studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, relatives said. Eventually, he ran National Security Bank of Chicago, said his friend, Thomas R. Johnson.
As an investor in the Atlanta Braves, one of his most jubilant moments happened in 1974, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.
Even in his 60s, Mr. Bogan ran in 10K races. He loved helicopter skiing with his wife in the Canadian Rockies — a sport he was still doing at age 82. The skiiers were dropped off on deep powder on a mountaintop for downhill runs. Mr. Bogan enjoyed golf, and often participated in charity tournaments. He helped found the Pro Amateur golf championship that benefitted Lurie Children’s Hospital. He told his daughter, Diane Palermo, that his participation came about because of his gratitude to the hospital for the care she received when she had heart surgery there as a child.
He was the oldest and longest-participating member of the Bob O’Link Golf Club in Highland Park.
Mr. Bogan liked good jazz, the music of Frank Sinatra, and the works of composer Burt Bacharach, whose tunes are an easy-listening soundtrack of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. “He loved to dance, and play the bass. He would get on the mike and sing ‘Misty’,” Diane Palermo said. His daughters used to serenade him with the Bacharach-Hal David tune, “Alfie,” but change the wording to “Ralphie.”
He also loved snazzy cars, a possible legacy from his father, who was reputed to have the second Corvette ever made.
Charming and optimistic, Mr. Bogan always said of death: “I’m not going,” recalled his sister, Sally Jenkins.
He greeted everyone with courtesy and interest, his wife said, something he learned when he worked at Greyhound with a panoply of staffers and the public. “He thought everybody was the greatest person in the world, from a car mechanic, to a bigshot lawyer,” said Sarah Ellsworth Bogan. “He treated every one of those people with the same respect and dignity.”
In addition to his third wife, Sarah Ellsworth Bogan, Mr. Bogan is survived by four children from his second marriage, Pamela Bogan Boemi, Sandra Bogan, Karen Nelson and Diane Palermo; another daughter from his first marriage, Mary Flair Bogan; two sisters and two brothers, Sally Jenkins, Barbara Van Ornum, Thomas Bogan and Michael Bogan; and 13 grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is planned at 3 p.m. June 20 at Church of Our Saviour, 530 W. Fullerton Pkwy., Chicago. Burial is in Dubuque, Iowa, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.