“He’s an inspiration, as he truly exemplifies the Rotary motto ‘Service above Self,’” says Jenanne Murphy, a fellow Rotarian. “He has the vision to see, faith to believe and courage to act.”
One example, Murphy cites, has been Prael’s devotion to the international student exchange program. “He has always given generously of his time to provide cultural experiences for the visiting exchange students.”
Not only has he been a mentor to students from abroad, but Prael’s home was a safe haven for youth here on South Whidbey.
“Our home has always been the hub for all of my brothers and my friends and local youth in need,” says Kate Prael Asgari, the dentist’s daughter.
One such youth was Greg Bressani.
“My story goes back a few years when I had no home to go to,” he says. “I don’t know what would have happened to me. All I know is I needed an angel, and I got one.”
“Ric took me in, and was such an inspiration in my life, and was my lifesaver. He allowed me to open up and talk about all of those emotional and tough issues I need to look at. He was like the father figure I needed, and I felt safe in his home and in his presence,” Bressani continues. “He helped and supported me to get my life on track, finish high school and go on to follow my heart’s path. I still go back to discuss life with Ric; he’s like a Zen Master in hiding. And he will always be a hero in my eyes.”
Prael remarks, “If someone feels safe in my presence that is wonderful, but they are the ones that make changes, I don’t dispense advice or say anything special. I don’t get any credit for someone making positive changes. They do that.”
Prael isn’t one to talk about himself. When asking him a question, he turns it around to find out more about you, your family and what you’ve been doing.
His words about himself may be minimal, but his actions in this community are huge.
“South Whidbey’s community would not be the place it is without the influence of a true Hometown Hero like Ric,” says Bill Humphreys, an instructor and music director.
“Ric has been for many, many years a quiet, unassuming contributor to the arts, sciences and educational life of the community — not only as a financial philanthropist, but by his personal mentoring and advocacy of our community’s youth,” Humphreys says, recalling when he came to Whidbey in the late 1970s and became aware of “Dr. Ric’s” tutoring and personal endorsement of high school students who were struggling with grades or social acceptance.
“He has been an inspiration to a number of individuals who ultimately succeeded, but may not have without Ric’s compassionate intervention in their lives,” Humphreys says.
Prael has tutored many youngsters who were struggling in math and science, but that was just the start of his generosity.
“One year recently, when many students applied for arts scholarship awards, there was a dilemma, as they all were so deserving. Ric quietly added the monies so all could be awarded the scholarship,” Humphreys says. “Ric exemplifies the best of heartfelt community stewardship.”
Prael raised his two children, Kate and Trace, as a single parent since they were young; his wife died in 1980.
“My dad never expressed regrets or disappointments about his life,” his daughter says. “In fact, he embraced it with exuberant compassion for others and contagious joy. I am fortunate to be the daughter of a man I would have picked as a mentor and friend.”
“My father is a person that embodies the word ‘selfless,’” adds Trace Prael. “He was always on call for anyone that needed him, in the dentist office or in life.”
He recalled how the family’s home became a gathering place.
“My dad had an open-door policy, and even stocked specific foods that friends like to eat. He is the type of parent that showed up to all of your sports events, came on school field trips, stayed up late to help us with homework,” he says. “I learned so much from his tutelage. My family and I moved back to Whidbey so that our children could experience his thoughtfulness, childlike wonder and wisdom. I am so grateful for the grandfather he has become.”
Bob Thurmond is a Langley business owner and chairman of the board of directors of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.
“I’ve known Ric for two years. In that short period, I’ve come to know him as a selfless lover of life and of this community,” Thurmond says. “His impact on the community has been profound. He has deflected personal recognition and praise to help enhance the capabilities of the organizations he supports.”
“Many people know that Ric has a special interest in being part of a community that nurtures children and families. What few know is the extent to which Ric has intervened personally in the lives of individuals to make sure they had opportunities to thrive and grow despite difficult circumstances. Humility, kindness and the strength of character to do the right thing will define Ric’s legacy,” Thurmond adds. “His life shows us that patience and faith in others make a better life for each of us.”
One of Prael’s favorite mottos he lived by was to “scatter joy” throughout the world, for we make our life from what we give to others. Prael says our selfless acts for others are contagious and help us all be the best we were meant to be.
What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
“Fail? What do you mean fail? If I want or feel led to do something, I just do it.”
An adage you like?
“A single newspaper report gives you your reputation. A lifetime of toil gives you your character. Reputation is what men say about you on your tombstone. Character is what angels say about you before the throne of God.”
Words to live by:
“Scatter joy!” “Don’t make excuses.” “Live the ‘dash’ in your life. It’s not the date you were born, nor the date you die — it’s the dash between those years and what you do with them that matter.”
What do you wish people would understand about you?
“That I am ultimately shy, and prefer not to be in the spotlight.”
Who inspired you?
“My adoptive parents Art and Loraine Freeman; they were generous, kind,
caring and compassionate people.”
“Prejudice and whining.”
What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do?
“Tell my two children ages 5 and 8 that their mother had passed away.”
What seven words would you like for your epitaph?
“Oh, I am going to want more than seven words. Someone let me know how that turns out.”
What others say about Ric Prael
“Ric Prael is the ultimate arts activist. When Whidbey Island Center for the Arts opened its doors in Langley, he was there, for just about everything. It was always a treat to see him, and he was just as ebullient in the city as on the island. Ric is passionate when it comes to the arts. He lives it, breathes it and has kept the arts lively on South Whidbey for all these years. That fervor, along with his endless love for family, friends and community, makes him one of South Whidbey’s brightest and most beloved stars. Bravo, Ric Prael!”
Sue Frause, freelance writer/photographer
“I have known Ric Prael for 30 years. He has always demonstrated a deep commitment to his family and his community. Ric did a marvelous job raising two exemplary children. He stayed connected to all of their activities — Ric never missed a performance. His enthusiastic support of the arts is evidenced by his having served on the boards of Island Theatre, Island Arts Council and the Fools, in addition to giving time, energy and financial support to WCT and WICA. In the early days of live theater on South Whidbey, when the Clyde Theatre was our main venue, I have known Ric to single-handedly fill the house for an opening night performance. As a family dentist, Dr. Prael provided excellent care and took a personal interest in all of his patients.
I can think of no one more deserving of the title Hometown Hero than Dr. Ric Prael.”
Martha Murphy, founder of Whidbey Children’s Theater
“I felt a part of Dr. Ric’s ‘dental family,’ as a co-worker of his for over a dozen years. He enjoys people and their stories to the point of sometimes running behind at work. At times, we’d tease him about being too chatty with the patients; we’d threaten to get out the ‘theater hook.’ At Christmas he gave each of us $50 to spend in Langley for Toys for Tots. It made Ric smile to help other people with their smiles. He cared deeply about his patients and staff, as he carefully picked his replacement, Dr. Ed Park, when Ric decided it was time to retire from his practice.”
Monique ‘Mo’ Talkinton, a member of Prael’s dental staff
“Ric and Prael are the first two words that you will find when you look up the word community in the dictionary. Among a plethora of positively Prael personifications, Dr. Ric has, for over four decades, single-handedly, while smiling his wonderful, wide-screen sunshine smile, sold more raffle tickets and raised more money for more local causes than any human or non-human I have ever met. Thank you, Dr. Ric!”
Jim Freeman, Conductor of Fun
“Ric has always been a good neighbor, a good friend to the community and an all-around nice guy. He welcomed us, with our new business and new baby, as we began our venture with the Star Store, and has supported us ever since. He always takes the time to ask about our daughter, Gena, and sincerely shows interest in what she is doing. His children reflect his values, and have grown into wonderful young adults. Congratulations, Dr. Ric!”
Tamar, Gene and Gena Felton, the Star Store
“One of my favorite memories of Ric was when I first became executive director of Good Cheer. South Whidbey Rotary had asked me to do a presentation at one of their meetings. Being new, there was still so much to learn. As I did my presentation, there were important facts that I didn’t cover. Ric being the gentleman he is, asked questions that addressed the issues that I had missed. The only two people who knew I may have missed some important points were Ric and me. He recently asked me what Good Cheer’s greatest need is. When I told him an elevator, Ric responded by donating $9,000. Ric has always been a faithful donor to Good Cheer with his gifts and time. Ric Prael exemplifies what makes South Whidbey so special.”
Kathy McLaughlin, executive director of Good Cheer
“I’ve gone to Ric and so has our family for 37 years. He was always a wonderful dentist. But he went beyond that for his patients. If we needed anything, for instance when I became a single mother and had to work over in town, Ric would go over and wake up Bruce my youngest and get him to school. Ric has always been a great role model for the youth.”
Saranell DeChambeau, former patient of Ric’s
“Ric is one of the most generous, community-oriented people I have ever known. He has been involved at every level in South Whidbey personally and professionally and in the schools, theatre, business organizations. He is a role model for all of us, from his ‘dental-perfect’ smile to his gentle humor and love of his fellow man.”
Jean Shaw, retired teacher and volunteer
“Ric is one of the first people I remember from when I arrived on the Island in 1978. Kate and Trace were a few feet shorter then. He has always been passionate about kids, theater, our community and life in general. Ric was part of the grassroots efforts to build WICA, and served on the board during the early years. He was also quite active with Island Arts Council, Fools and Island Theatre. This is a man of integrity, who wants ‘everyone to get along and do their best.’ Thank you, Ric, for making our community a better place to live.”
Stacie Burgua, executive director at WICA
“I first met Dr. Ric in 1985. Ric rented me a space in his first office for my practice. This was a huge improvement from my 38-foot trailer tucked in the woods of my parents’ farm. Ric became a role model of patience, kindness and ‘staying cool’ in times of stress. You are number one, Ric!”
Robert Rorex, chiropractor
“Ric has been a huge influence in my life as a Rotarian. I admire how much he loves and cares for the youth of this island. I have seen his dedication to the foreign exchange students who have come here to study. He has given much of himself to the Youth Center and to the different musical experiences that the students are involved in. He alone has given a scholarship to a graduating student every year since I have known him.
Anne Dotson, South Whidbey School District employee