Archaeologist Ravenhorst dug a methodical life, with tart edge

October 02, 2005|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

From 1983 to 1987, John William Ravenhorst, an archaeologist, kept a chronological photographic history of how lunch went.

"John took a picture every single day of us eating at lunch," said Cari Ravenhorst, his wife, also an archaeologist, who worked with her husband for the National Park Service, primarily at Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park.

He also had a theory about blueberry Pop Tarts, the only kind of Pop Tart he would eat.

"He was certain that the blueberry ones had more fruit filling than the others," said Mia Parsons, who worked with John and Cari at Harpers Ferry. "I wouldn't be surprised if he weighed and measured them."

John, who was diagnosed two years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig's disease, died Sept. 24 at his Williamsport home at the age of 49.


He is survived by his wife, mother, three sisters and an older brother.

Family and friends said they will remember John as the man who documented everything, had a "different" kind of humor and could say "I love you" without speaking.

Born Dec. 31, 1955, in Lexington, Va., John attended Lexington High School and graduated from Washington and Lee University.

His father, the late Henry L. Ravenhorst, taught engineering and architecture at Washington and Lee and was an alumnus of the school.

His mother, Dorothy, a pian-ist, said John showed signs of independence early in his life.

She remembered that one time when the family visited Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., they were preparing to take a ferry back to the mainland when they noticed John was missing.

"One of the ferries was pulling off," Dorothy said. "And then there was Johnny on the back waving at us. We went on and took the next ferry, and there Johnny was standing there waiting for us, nonchalant."

His father, Henry, was a formal man who always was seen with a coat and tie, Cari said. Friends poked fun at Henry, saying he slept in his bow tie, Dorothy said.

John did not adopt his father's sense of style.

A reddish-brown beard covered a good portion of his face, though it wasn't so thick that you couldn't see his smile. In pictures, his eyes always appeared happy behind his large-framed glasses.

For his wedding in 1981, he wore the same suit that he had worn to a few funerals and to a few of his friends' weddings, Cari said.

At work, "he wore a pair of shoes until the bottoms rotted out, and then duct tape was usually involved," Parsons said.

John wasn't much for words, either.

"It probably took John 12 years before he could spontaneously say 'I love you,'" Cari said. "Every morning when I got up, he had a pot of tea - I'm not a coffee drinker - ready for me. That was his way of saying it."

Cari and John met on Nov. 19, 1979, her first day at work. The two were paired in a pit filled with bricks. There wasn't much of a conversation, Cari said.

"I was just there dumping out buckets of bricks," she said.

They remained work partners for 15 years, Cari said.

In the 24 years the two were married, Cari said, John never bought her flowers.

"He never wanted to bring me anything that was already dead," she said.

J.D. Young, John's father-in-law, said John disliked cutting the grass because "he was cutting something living."

He also refused to let J.D. cut down the trees in the couple's front yard, J.D. said.

At night, John would sit up reading books about the load-bearing capacity of cement and the hydrology of dams - for pleasure, Cari said.

"He was very meticulous, routine-oriented," Cari said. "If I wanted to go out for dinner on Friday, I had to start prepping him for it on Monday."

His watch was set to the atomic clock, and he always did things the same way every day.

Laura Young, Cari's mother, said John would walk around her entire house and check out every room in their house each time he came to visit.

"Just to see if anything was different," Laura said.

But everything changed for the family in the fall of 2003, when John was diagnosed with ALS.

"I just wanted to put my face in the pillow and sob," his mother said.

John always had appeared healthy. At first, they thought he might have Lyme disease since, as archaeologists, they frequently were exposed to ticks.

But after doctors ruled out Lyme disease, they all had to accept the fact that John was suffering from a fatal illness.

"It was kind of numbing," said Cari, who took care of John for the remainder of his life. "It was kind of like, OK, now what?"

Instead of mourning his loss, family and friends decided to throw a party to celebrate his life.

"I only made him three promises," Cari said. "I'd always take care of him and never put him in a nursing home, I promised I'd never cut down the trees in the yard until he died and the third one was that we wouldn't have a funeral, we'd have a party for him and we wouldn't cry."

The family is to celebrate John's life on Monday in Harpers Ferry, where John worked from 1977 until he retired in 2004.

Cari said John's song requests for the party reflect his eclectic tastes and a bit of his quiet humor. There will be selections from Tammy Wynette, Bob Marley and K.C. and The Sunshine Band.

"And Loreena McKennitt, if I absolutely must," she said.

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