By Briana Pell

Above and below the Bridge, everyone knows that the U.P. is a special place with very special people. And every once in a while, we learn of unexpected legends that walk among us here in the far north.

Ronnie Rall was one of those legends.

Ronald John Rall, affectionately known as “Ronnie” to most, “Dad” to some, and “Grandpa” to many, was born in 1938, during a time when women and men worked hard and family and values were cherished.

He was born in Upper Sandusky, but moved to what is now the family farm, known as the “Penny Farm” in Mansfield, Ohio, when he was a young child.

His sister Kathy and brother Norbert helped their parents on the farm, and Ronnie came to love and appreciate his charges.

His life was forever changed one day when he received a scooter. He and his brother later constructed a racetrack in their backyard on the family farm.

Ronnie became proficient and then rather quick. After he acquired a dirt bike he began to race locally. But there was still the farm to look after and the cows to milk.

With the signature determination that Ronnie was known for, he quickly found a way to pursue his dream of racing while still working on the Penny Farm. He milked cows in the morning and then left to race. He was good enough to “go pro” by the age of 18, but his mother had reservations, so he waited until he was 21.

After many races, Ronnie decided to earn a pilot’s license because it would be faster to get to and from races by airplane so that he could be back in time to milk the cows.

He would disassemble his bike, load it up into his plane and fly to the airport. There he would rent the biggest car he could find for his bike pieces, and head to the race. At the racetrack, he would reassemble his bike, ride the course, take it down again, and then fly home for the night so that he could milk cows that evening and next morning. If he was getting in late, he would phone home to his mother, and she would go outside and light clay pots to line the runway so he could see enough to land.

During the 1960s, Ronnie became one of the best dirt track racers in the US, going on to win five American Motorcycle Association national titles, and ranking as high as third in the country in 1964.

In 2001 he was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame.

The name “Ronnie Rall” is synonymous with motocross.

Once when he was racing on the East Coast, Ronnie was astonished to come across an ad for a resort up on Bodi Lake, a beautiful, rambling, happy place in the U.P. where he had spent summers with his family as a boy. He immediately telephoned the familiar owners and purchased it with his racing winnings.

Ronnie eventually met Alison Peters at an airport, and married her two weeks later, at almost 42 years of age.

Ronnie had finally settled down.

Or had he?

With the same all or nothing spirit, Ronnie and Alison embraced life and the couple grew to a family of nine.

They farmed the Penny Farm until moving the family to the U.P. and to a new farm in Engadine. Ronnie’s adventurous spirit and love for animals led him to raise beef, dairy goats, and milk cows.
His family was homeschooled and closely bonded, with the children helping with the many chores like hay making, cow milking, gardening, farm markets, and other adventurous pursuits.

In his older age, he continued to race and work on his motorcycles, attending Bike Week down in Daytona Beach, Florida, and was often spotted racing down Raski Road with a bucket of chicken eggs, or on a tractor tidying up or moving hay.

Andrea Kalnbach, his middle daughter who currently farms the Engadine farm, says of her father:

“Everyone talks about what a racing legend he was, but really, there’s so much more. He was so dedicated to his family. He lived three mans’ lives. He had such dedication to the farm because it was the best thing for the family, the best thing for the children. He mowed hay last year, still trying to put in the same amount of hours. But he slowed down last year, and it was such an opportunity to get to spend quality time with him.”

On January 20, 2023, the Engadine-Curtis area steeled itself and suffered a great loss. Ronnie, age 84, passed away peacefully in Ohio and was laid to rest in the presence of those he loved most, at the place he loved most, the Penny Farm.

Ronnie’s oldest child, Amelia Duberville, who resides in Curtis, reflects:

“Because he didn’t marry until 42, my father thought he wouldn’t get to have any children. I think it so special the legacy that he left.”

And now, with his 30th grandchild just born this past month at the Penny Farm, he certainly has made his mark in the country, as well as a special corner in the UP.

Ronnie Rall’s life is one of many that have touched this area, and if you don’t yet know someone worth taking note of, make sure to be someone worth taking note of, because you never know what unexpected legends walk among us here in the far north.