‘Modest’ man bequeaths generosity in life, death | TheUnion.com

‘Modest’ man bequeaths generosity in life, death

J. David Ramsey next to sign at Bear River High School football stadium.

J. David Ramsey, or Dave to his friends, was a quiet man who lived a modest life.

The retired U.S. Forest Service employee lived in a mobile home in Colfax and spent his time in the area supporting Bear River High School athletics and attending Music in the Mountains performances.

He gave freely his expertise to help build a better athletic field and track stats for Bear River’s basketball teams.

While Ramsey was always generous to Music in the Mountains, he wasn’t among the top 10 donors of the organization and hadn’t given money in years, after moving to an assisted living apartment in Davis.

“I’ve never seen a person who gave of themselves so much to the broader community.”
Dick Werntz

So last week when Music in the Mountains Executive Director Cristine Kelly received the news that Ramsey had bequeathed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the nonprofit arts organization, she was “totally surprised.”

“It was an unexpected and wonderful gift that will help secure our future, whatever that is,” Kelly said.

And his generosity didn’t stop there. Through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, Ramsey gave more than $1.5 million.

The bequest directed the Foundation to make immediate grants to organizations that were important to him: $387,462 to the Sacramento Symphony Foundation; $232,477 to Music in the Mountains; $232,477 to the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento; and $309,970 to establish the J. David Ramsey Music Endowment at the Foundation to provide support for local classical music for many years to come.

He also directed $387,462 to his alma mater Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, according to the Sacramento Region Community Foundation.

For longtime friend Dick Werntz, the news didn’t come as a big surprise. The retired Bear River principal couldn’t say enough about Ramsey.

“I’ve never seen a person who gave of themselves so much to the broader community,” said Werntz, who met Ramsey when the Bear River athletic fields were being constructed.

Ramsey moved to the area in 1953 to work for the U.S. Forest Service after getting a civil engineering degree from Swarthmore.

Ramsey showed up, then in his mid-60s, and pointed out all the problems with the field as it was going in. He volunteered his time and civil engineering expertise to help with the project.

One of Ramsey’s passions was track and field and he oversaw the placement of events. But he didn’t just supervise, Ramsey got in there with a shovel and donated his labor as well, Werntz said.

He would come in with detailed notes for the construction crews.

“Instead of being a nuisance, he was always right,” Werntz added.

In addition to helping put the field in, Ramsey volunteered to keep stats and record books for the boys basketball team under Jack McCrory and the freshman team, then coached by Werntz.

He put in hundreds of hours of his time — for which he was honored with the field being named the J. David Ramsey Stadium.

When he wasn’t helping Bear River, he was likely at a performance at Music in the Mountains. From 1999 to 2004, there were only a few indoor concerts Ramsey missed, Kelly said.

The Patron Services Manager at Music in the Mountains, Nancy Donahue, knew Ramsey well from his attendance over the years. She told Kelly that what stood out to her was not only his love of the music, but appreciation of what it takes to produce the concerts, Kelly said.

Donahue, who has been with Music in the Mountains for nearly 25 years, said Ramsey was a delight — he would come in all the time and talk about music.

“He was very aware and concerned about how much it took to put the music on,” Kelly added.

The surprise legacy is a great example of how people can give to an organization they love, even if they don’t have a lot to give in the present, Kelly said.

The gift to Music in the Mountains is a significant one, Kelly said. The organization’s board hasn’t decided what it will do with the money yet, but the finance committee is set to meet to create a plan.

Some of the funds will likely go to the endowment, and some to support new initiatives they are planning, Kelly said.

Ramsey was a multidimensional man, but lived a frugal life, only spending money on his passion — music concerts, according to Werntz.

Ramsey was a man everyone should be proud of, Werntz said, adding that he was a World War II veteran who went into combat immediately after the D-Day invasion, a fact he shared with very few. He even managed to write a symphony while fighting on the front lines in Europe, according to the Sacramento Regional Community Foundation.

“He didn’t talk a lot. He didn’t brag,” Werntz said.

Ramsey died in January. Although he moved from the area several years ago, his legacy will forever remain.

“Dave was just an incredible man,” Werntz said.

To contact Features Editor Brett Bentley, email bbentley@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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