Violet R. “Vi” Ripken, the matriarch of a baseball dynasty and a revered member of the Aberdeen community recalled for her philanthropy, died of a heart ailment Friday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was a day short of her 83rd birthday.
She was the widow of former Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. and mother of Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and former Oriole Bill Ripken. She had two other children, a daughter, Ellen Leigh “Elly” Ripken, who was her caregiver, and another son, Frederick “Fred” Ripken.
In a statement, the family said: “We want to thank everyone for the tremendous outpouring of affection towards our mom and our family during this difficult time. Mom was an incredible woman who touched so many people throughout her lifetime. The void that she leaves in our lives cannot be filled but what she gave us has shaped who we are today and our memories of her will last the rest of our lives.”
Born Violet Roberta Gross, she was the daughter of a mechanic. She met her future husband, Cal Ripken Sr., while attending Aberdeen High School. Her husband died in 1999.
A 1995 Sun article said she was from an old family. Her antecedents “include many long-established Harford County families ... a number of whom came here before the American Revolution.”
A 2012 Baltimore Sun article described her: “If you want to meet the matriarch of Maryland’s most famous baseball family, just go to a minor league game in Aberdeen. There she is on dozens of summer nights — plain-spoken and tough as leather, but also open, happy to talk about the thousands of games she watched as the wife of a manager and the mother of infielders.”
“I’m more like a goodwill ambassador,” Mrs. Ripken said of her role. “I enjoy what they’ve done up there. ... It’s good for the town and the whole county.”
After she married Cal Ripken Sr., she easily accepted the rhythm of the baseball calendar. Her husband had signed with the Orioles in 1957 and wound up managing the club during a lengthy career with the organization.
The Sun’s 2012 profile said that as the mother of young children, she would pack the four Ripkens into the family Mercury wagon and drive them to “a remote minor league outpost — Appleton, Wis., Kennewick, Wash., Elmira, N.Y. — where Cal Sr. was managing.”
She remembered the night in 1995 when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s major league record for consecutive games played: “We treat everything very matter-of-factly, so we would just laugh,” she said. “He did what he was supposed to do, come to work every day. That night the electricity was so great. It was an awe moment. It was quite emotional.”
Mrs. Ripken was a popular citizen who was well respected in Aberdeen.
“Vi was one of the most grounded people ever to work with. She never let the celebrity of being the matriarch of the Ripken family affect her in any way,” said Tory M. Pierce, a board member of the Boys and Girls Club. “From the lighthearted fundraising through her Diamonds in the Rough ladies golf tournament to the seriousness of board governance, Vi remained true to what matters most — family and community.”
Mr. Pierce also said, “Vi, as a founding continuous board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs, oversaw the club’s growth from serving 20 kids in a church basement in Aberdeen to serving more than 7,500 children throughout both Harford and Cecil counties.”
John S. Landbeck Jr., an attorney, former judge and Aberdeen native, said, “I can remember as a child watching Cal Senior play ball for the old Aberdeen Canners.”
He said that Mrs. Ripken adopted easily and effectively to her role within the family.
“In Aberdeen Vi was absolutely marvelous as the person who took care of everything when Cal Senior was gone on the road, which was most of the time. She raised the kids well and taught them to be respectful.”
He also said, “The mark you leave on the world is your family, your legacy. She achieved that in spades.”
He recalled her joyous personality and ready wit.
“Vi had a wicked sense of humor. She’d just laugh your socks off when you were around her. There was a group who met for breakfast at McDonald’s on Route 22. I remember she was generally the only lady there. She held her own,” he said.
“That club would not exist without her,” Mr. Landbeck said. “She did not just lend her name to an organization. She was out there working to get it together as a well-run and productive group. She worked hard to see it come to fruition.”
The club named its baseball field in her honor in 2014.
Mr. Landbeck recalled her vigorous personality.
“Vi was a strong lady. I like to think of Vi and Queen Elizabeth. Like the queen, she worked behind the scenes. She ran the train and nobody noticed it,” Mr. Landbeck said. “She was a positive person. She probably got 28 hours out of a day.”
“Many years ago, Ms. Vi saw a need for children to have a nurturing, learning, and safe environment to gather,” said Sheryl Davis Kohl, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford & Cecil Counties. “It was with these principles in mind that she, along with a small group of businesspeople from the Aberdeen area, engaged the national organization of the Boys and Girls Club to start a chapter here in her hometown of Aberdeen.”
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Phyllis G. Grover, an Aberdeen planning official and friend for 30 years, said: “Her smile was contagious. She will be missed in the city of Aberdeen and Harford County.”
The Aberdeen community was shocked in 2012 when Mrs. Ripken was abducted at gunpoint from her home on July 24. News reports said she was bound and driven around for about 24 hours. She returned, unharmed, a day later. It remains an unsolved case. A year later, a man carrying a handgun attempted to steal her car. She scared him away.
Funeral services are private.
In addition to her daughter and three sons, survivors include a sister, Lois Cleary; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.