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Ralph John Houghton, 89, of Kenosha, passed away peacefully early Monday morning, June 1st, 2009, at Kenosha Hospital, in the presence of his beloved wife and five children.
Born on April 14, 1920, in Hoopeston, IL, to Ralph J. and Veronica Houghton, Ralph lived a long and fruitful life and will always be remembered as the ‘Music Man’ for his tireless contributions to music in Kenosha and throughout the state.
Ralph served his country during World War II. An army infantry captain, he was captured by the German army at the Battle of the Bulge and escaped over Christmas 1945. He was honorably discharged in 1945.
He met his wife of 63 years, Mathilde Jane Houghton, while attending Illinois State University, Normal. They were united in marriage on June 4, 1946. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education he moved to Racine, WI. He later received a Masters in Administration from DePaul University. In 1947 he became the music director at Franklin Junior High School, in Racine. At the age of 28 he was unanimously selected Outstanding Young Man of the Year, by the Racine Jaycees, for starting a band and a chorus at the school at which he taught. In 1955, he and his family moved to Kenosha, where music and the name Ralph Houghton truly became synonymous. Appointed Director of Music for Kenosha Unified Schools in 1956, when there were only 8 music teachers spread over 17 public schools, he nourished the program into a musical powerhouse that became a model for public schools throughout the country. Always working on the front line, Mr. Houghton was instrumental in organizing the Band-O-Rama, the Great Lakes Band Championship, the Orchestra Festival, the Choral festival, and over a dozen more annual music events. He helped combine the competing Tremper and Bradford bands to form the Band of the Black Watch, and founded the Band-Boosters as a network of band support for parents and the community. The original Ice Cream Socials were held in his own front yard, Ralph and Jane’s former residence on 7th Avenue.
Ralph Houghton was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Kenosha Unified in 1979. With new, non-music related responsibilities, he still made sure funding and support for music, theater, and the arts never went to the wayside. Mr. Houghton was a founding member of the Kemper Center Board of Directors. At the state level, he established a high-school music honors program for the Wisconsin School Music Association. He retired in 1987 at the age of 67.
In the years to come he still remained active in promoting music, from seeing through the construction of the Kenosha Band Shell to privately mentoring his own grandchildren as they took on musical instruments themselves. In 2008, the sheet music and recording archive at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education, in Waunakee, was named the Ralph Houghton Honors Library.
Over the past fifty years Ralph Houghton received more honors for distinguished service than could be mentioned on a single page, or that he would care to admit. Humble to the end, Ralph always deflected credit for his success back to the community and those he worked with. In May of 2008, he received the Anderson Arts Center 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, and was presented the last two portraits done by renowned Kenosha artist George Pollard, a close personal friend. This was a final testament to Ralph Houghton’s status as a true Kenosha legend.
His capacity for community service seemed endless, but nothing meant more to Ralph than his family. He was a loving, faithful husband; a wise, compassionate father; a fun, supportive grandfather; a patriarch by every definition of the word. To all who knew him he will be remembered as a great storyteller with meticulous attention to detail, a gracious host, an avid sports fan, a political enthusiast, an entertainer, a shoulder of support, and an inspiration.
Ralph was preceded in death by his father and mother. He is survived by his wife, his five children; John (Janey) Houghton of Roseville, CA, David (Koreen) Houghton of Kenosha, Kathy (John) Spiro of Gaithersburg, MD, Steve Houghton of Bloomington, IN, and Mary (James) Erickson of Kenosha. Also surviving are his cousins, Renick (Jan and family) Ross of Janesville, WI, 16 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. We love you.
Visitation for Ralph will be held at Proko Funeral Home on Thursday, June 4th, from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. Family and friends are asked to meet on Friday, June 5th, for Mass at St. Mark’s Catholic Church at 10:00 a.m. Interment will follow at St. James Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the Houghton family asks that a donation be made to Kenosha Band Boosters c/o KUSD Fine Art Program, 3600-52nd Street, Kenosha, WI 53140 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proko Funeral Home & Crematory
Kenosha, WI 53144
Phone: (262) 654-3533
Visit Ralph’s Online Memorial Book at: