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The Baltimore Sun

Men of Harford 2011: Ralph Walls, Local Woodworker and Former Owner of Plaza Ford

Many of you may recognize the name Ralph Walls because his family has been a steadfast part of Harford County for over 90 years. His parents came to live and work in the county as dairy farmers in 1919. Ralph, 83, graduated from Bel Air High School in 1945 and he ran a successful business for over 50 years.

After high school, Ralph worked briefly for Harford Mutual Insurance Company, but soon found his true calling at the Central Motor Company in Bel Air, which is today’s Plaza Ford, Inc. “I started out as a bookkeeper and became office manager, then general manager and finally in 1962, my wife and I bought in. Those were good years, I enjoyed the business, and it was rewarding,” says Ralph.

Ralph met his wife, Betty Jane Coomes, in high school and they have been married for almost 64 years, have three children Carol, Thomas and Charles, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The Walls love to travel and have had the good fortune to see and experience Germany, Greece, Vienna, Budapest, England, Scotland and Ireland. They have also enjoyed visits to Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand, just to name of few.   

Ralph and Betty have been active members of the Oak Grove Baptist Church since 1938 and have taught Bible school, sang in the choir and have held various church positions over the years.

Retired since 2000, today, Ralph’s two sons, Thomas and Charles run the family business while Ralph has rededicated his life to one of his earliest passions—woodworking. “I started woodworking as a hobby in high school. I have always liked working with my hands. I got more seriously interested as time went on and got some equipment,” he explains. In the 1970s, while Ralph was in his 40s, he decided to have a garage built and made it into his own private woodworking shop.

“I built tables, roll top desks, blanket chests, bookcases, breakfronts, or whatever came along. Recently, I built a really unique piece for friends who were expecting their first grandchild. It was a Dr. Seuss “Cat in the Hat” bookcase. They asked if I could do it, and I liked the challenge,” says Ralph.

Although Ralph loves his craft, he doesn’t do it for profit. He uses mostly hardwood materials like oak, cherry, maple and ash, favoring unstained walnut because of the natural warm brown color. “I have a number of pieces that I am very proud of. I have about 10 different pieces in my house, and I have built for mostly family and friends.” In addition to furniture, Ralph has made a great number of smaller items, including chess boards with space to store the chessmen, walnut butler trays, trivets, knife blocks, cutting boards and lazy susans, which he has given to friends here and in other parts of the country.

After 52 years in the car business, what motivates Ralph to continue his passion for woodworking? He says, “I knew I had to do something. I have energy, and it gives me an outlet for my creativity. It occupies my time.” He adds, “You don’t go from working hard to doing nothing. I am usually working on some kind of project…anything I see that someone might like.”

Q&A
What is your favorite television show? I don’t watch a lot of television.
What is your favorite food? I guess roast beef. I eat to live.
If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be? Abraham Lincoln.
What do you do to relax or have fun? I woodwork and play golf.

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