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Centenarian Celebrates Birthday & 79th Anniversary

by Howard Roden

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Courier

WILLIS – To achieve 79 years of marital bliss, Ralph and Mary Lou Riggs have relied on a straightforward philosophy.

“You have to be friends with each other,” Mary Lou said. “You don’t mistreat your friends.”

With his wife Mary Lou looking on, Ralph Riggs blows out the candles on his 100th birthday cake

Nearly 200 family members and friends gathered at the Riggs’ 42-acre ranch north of Willis Saturday for a two-fold celebration. In addition to the couple’s 79th wedding anniversary (which was Nov. 4), Ralph Riggs was recognized for reaching his 100th birthday, which is today.

“I don’t have any magic to offer you (about hitting the century mark),” he said. “But I know one thing: Time is precious. Don’t squander time.”

Ralph Riggs, 100, looks on as his wife, Mary Lou, holds 5-month-old great-grandchild Caitlynn Riggs. Caitlynn is the youngest member of the Riggs clan

Currently, the Riggs clan includes six children, 17 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren, with 5-month-old Caitlynn Riggs the youngest of the great-grandchildren. Numerous nephews and nieces – some coming from as far away as Pennsylvania and Hawaii – attended the celebration.

“It’s good to see so many people here,” Ralph Riggs said.

Born in 1912, the same year as the sinking of the Titanic, Ralph Riggs has clear memories of growing up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania. One of his earliest jobs was delivering milk to customers with a horse-drawn buggy.

It was in 1929 that Ralph Riggs’ family moved to Bedford, Pa., where he became “a football hero” in high school, Mary Lou Riggs said. There, he met his future bride. They were married four years later.

“He was very popular,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

“She was the best-looking girl in school,” Ralph Riggs said.

Ralph & Mary Lou when they were in high
school at Bedford, Pa., in the early 1930s.

Maintaining such a lengthy marriage is the norm – not the exception – in the Riggs family. Youngest daughter Mari Ann Lisenbe and her husband Steve have been married 37 years. Son John Riggs and wife Merline have kept the knot tied for 50 years. And son Charlie Riggs and spouse Stephanie have been married 44 years.

“They’re steady, people of their word,” Steve Lisenbe said of his in-laws. “They believe in respect and trust of each other.”

Steve and Mari Ann Lisenbe live next door to her parents. She said her parents provided advice whenever there was a slight bump in the road in their relationship.

“My mother told me early on not to bring my problems to her. She told me to ‘work it out,’” Lisenbe said.

It was near the end of World War II that Ralph Riggs, working in the Pittsburgh steel mills, got word there were plenty of jobs in Texas. So he packed up and journeyed south to Houston, where he worked for Armco Steel for 30 years until his retirement in 1975.

“I didn’t know a soul in Texas, but moving down here was the best thing I ever did,” Ralph said.

In 1968, Riggs moved his family from Galena Park to their current address in Willis, where he’s raised a variety of animals. The ranch also has been a oversized playground for the young ones.

“It was always my dream to get back to the farm,” he said.





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