Ralph L. Minker Jr., 84; Minister Brought Attention to Alzheimer's

Ralph Minker, shown with wife Sandra O'Connell, said churches
Ralph Minker, shown with wife Sandra O'Connell, said churches "should be centers of agitation." (By Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ralph Leland Minker Jr., 84, who fought in World War II as a bomber pilot, served nine congregations in the Washington-Baltimore area as a United Methodist minister and publicly battled Alzheimer's disease, died Aug. 5 at Sunrise at Reston Town Center. He had lived in Reston for the past 28 years.

Rev. Minker worked with developer James Rouse, who designed the interfaith center in Columbia during the late 1960s, as a member of the Cooperative Ministry. He helped found St. John United Church, an ecumenical Presbyterian-Methodist congregation.

He was pastor of Eldbrooke United Methodist Church in Washington during the late 1960s, where he helped form the clergy patrol, an interdenominational group of ministers who tried to protect Vietnam War protesters.

In 1969, while welcoming a new District police chief to his job, Rev. Minker said churches "should be centers of agitation" for the best possible police force and public services. "If we have slipped in recent years, we must counter-attack against the problems and roadblocks that stand in our way," he preached.

In the early 1970s, he turned to career counseling and ran his own business for 10 years. By 1984, Rev. Minker had returned to church work and was a minister at what is now Cedar Lane United Methodist Church in Mount Rainier for four years until moving to Oxon Hill United Methodist Church. He retired in 1989.

Born in Wilmington, Del., he was attending Dickinson College when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and became a pilot, flying a B-17 bomber.

After flying 37 combat missions in 1944 and 1945, he was eligible to go home, but he signed up for another tour of duty because, he said in a 2000 oral history, he wanted to "finish up the job."

After the war in Europe ended, he flew food relief missions in Operation Chowhound, dropping food supplies to the Netherlands. The 800 letters he and his family exchanged during his military service became the basis for a 2005 book he created, "An American Family in World War II." The book is used by Fairfax and Loudoun county public schools for its history classes.

"An actual mission," he wrote to his father, "is one continuous surge between tense eager expectancy and weary monotony -- the thrill as power surges to lift the great silver bird in flight, the jockeying to form in squadron."

Upon his discharge, he returned from England aboard the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner and played poker with actor James Stewart, who also was returning from military service.

After finishing his degree at Dickinson, he enrolled in law school but wrote to his mother in 1948 that he would follow his father into the ministry.

"No other profession," he wrote, "presents an equal component of unselfish service, concern with human relations and large theatre for active operations."

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