2010-03-25 / Local & State

Former PA Man Died Helping In Haiti Earthquake

By Mike Argento

YORK, Pa. (AP) – Thirteen years ago, Walt Ratterman, president of an electrical contracting company, decided to go to Africa with Habitat for Humanity to build houses.

It came out of the blue, said Frank Kennell, the vice president of the company, TRC Electrical Construction Inc. Ratterman, who lived in southern York County, wasn’t a particularly religious man, Kennell said. He was charitable, he said, taking his family to Baltimore every holiday season to help the less fortunate.

He went to Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa, if not the world, paying his own way. He was gone a month.

“When he came back,’’ Kennell said, “he was a different man.’’

That one trip sparked a small revolution, a revolution determined to change the world, one home, one clinic, one school, one village, at a time, a revolution led by an electrical contractor who became a one-man relief mission. Since that trip, Ratterman has traveled the globe. He had dragged solar panels through the jungle to provide electricity to remote villages in Central America. He had helped build clinics and schools in Africa. He had been to Rwanda.

He handed out food and blankets to Afghanistan refugees during the early days of the war. He spoke to Kennell on a satellite phone while he was in Afghanistan in 2002. Kennell, who lives in Chanceford Township, could hear explosions over the phone. The bombs were falling about 25 miles away.

“Nothing to worry about,’’ Ratterman told his friend.

In January, Ratterman was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At the insistence of U.S. aid officials, Ratterman was staying at the Hotel Montana in the capital city. Had he had his druthers, Kennell said, he would have been in a sleeping bag out in the villages that needed his help. He wasn’t a hotel kind of guy, Kennell said.

He was in the hotel on Jan. 12 when the earthquake struck.

The hotel collapsed.

On Feb. 8, a day after his wife, Jeanne, returned from Haiti to assist the effort to find her husband, his remains were found. He had to be identified with dental records.

“Our prayers were answered,’’ Jeanne Ratterman, his wife of 38 years, told the Portland Oregonian at his memorial service. “They just weren’t answered the way we’d want.’’

He was 57; he would have been 58 on Valentine’s Day.

“He was an amazing person,’’ Kennell said.

He moved from Chanceford Township, near Brogue, to Washougal, Wash., in September 2003, Kennell said. There, he continued his work with Knightsbridge International, an aid organization he joined in 1999, and he co-founded SunEnergy Power International, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy in remote parts of the world. He was featured the 2006 documentary, “Beyond The Call.’’

Alphin posted the last e-mail he received from Ratterman on his blog:

“Hello Big K...

“Just sitting here in Haiti trying to get everything done that we need to get done, and after your last note – been thinking a lot about you!

“I hope you are doing well and your health is holding up. This business – both of our businesses – can get pretty demanding sometimes, and, well, it’s just damn tough, but it’s good!!!’’

“As I get older, I get thinking there are only a couple of things that matter much in life (besides family, of course). That is helping folks, and MUSIC. I suppose that is why we got together.

“WE have to do more. I keep promising myself as soon as I get some time not on the road, I am going to get back into the ol piano, maybe when my legs give out.

“Anyway – just wrote to say I hope your health is holding up. The world needs ya!!’’

Alphin wrote: “Walt has alot of friends for sure, around the world. He’s one of the most amazing GIVERS I’ve ever met. I so want to see his face again. He has been a true mentor for me. Just typing this makes me weep. The world needs more Walts!’’

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