Ladysmith (WQOW)- If you've witnessed a quiet Wisconsin sunrise, or felt the rush of the Chippewa River you know the power and beauty held in nature. A Ladysmith man has set out to harness that energy for those who need it most.
We all have have skeletons in our closet, but Ralph Barten has a basement full of bones. Antlers to be exact. "Oh I go through about 200 pounds a year," guesses Ralph. As someone who has hunted and fished his whole life, Ralph knows the power of nature. So he set out to saw and drill and sand down that energy for some of the smallest strangers. "I tell the kids you wear this necklace and it will give you good luck and then when you go to the doctor. You've got God and Mother Nature on your side. Two of the most powerful things in the world."
Last year Ralph's non-profit, Shedding Hope, gifted nearly $10,000 worth of diamond willow walking sticks, lamps framed by deer antlers and coffee cup holders. Ralph donates them to be auctioned off at benefits, raising money for children battling cancer or a debilitating disease. "When you put a smile on somebody's face that's got cancer and you get the biggest hug it makes you feel so good," says Ralph with a huge grin. "That's worth everything."
Whittled in wood or bound by leather, these gifts come wrapped with a ribbon of inspiration. Because Ralph has never seen those smiles. He is blind. "13 years ago I had a lower back operation," he explains. "When I woke up I was totally blind." From his hospital bed Ralph heard the sound of a television program, featuring kids not just fighting cancer, but living with it and laughing with it. "And I thought. What in the world am I doing? Sitting here bawling? I'm going to make it with blindness. It's going to be rough, but I'm going to live. And these kids have cancer, it's worse than my blindness. And I said if these kids can make it, I can make it."
Ralph is well known in the Ladysmith area. In fact, he was nominated for a Jefferson Award by a local DJ. "It was a pleasant phone call that I'd get just about every other day and it ended up being Ralph wanting to request music," recalls John Velebir on air personality at WLDY/WJBL. "In radio you always wonder what people look like. When I met him I'm not going to lie, I was like 'Oh wow. Ralph is blind'." John says that's no longer part of the conversation ."When you talk to him it's clear, this is a good person doing good things for other people. And it makes you say, What can I do?" Ralph explains his drive to do good by saying, "If I don't do anything than the blindness beats me. But as long as I can make stuff and have something to look forward to I'm winning."
Here's something else that's amazing, before he lost his vision, Ralph never knew how to make those beautiful lamps or walking sticks. He learned after. His wife Jo helps him with any cutting or drilling that needs to be done, because as Ralph says, he likes his fingers.
To learn more about Shedding Hope, Ralph's non-profit click here. Or to contact Ralph directly call 715-532-9857. Donations of deer antlers are at the top of Ralph's wish list you can mail them to 1305 Northridge Drive, Ladysmith WI 54848.
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