Manley was a demolitions expert, and he and his fellow soldiers parachuted behind enemy lines to delay any German reinforcements that might try to reach the Normandy beachhead once the invasion began. They mined key roadway intersections, disrupted enemy communications, disabled German pillboxes and prepared bridges for demolition.
Manley was given a Purple Heart and awarded a Bronze Star for his service and valor that day. During the course of the war, he was wounded six times and earned two more Purple Hearts before returning to the States in November 1945 aboard a hospital ship.
A Budding Building Career
After the war, Manley didn’t venture too far from home. He attended Drury College in his hometown of Springfield on the G.I. Bill, married his wife, Jayne, and became a builder — slowly, the way it was done in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. “I wanted to build my own home, and after it was finished, someone wanted to buy it,” Manley said. So he sold it for $1,500 and built another.
The money was good, so he kept building homes. He built two-bedroom homes back then, no garages and maybe two or three outlets in a room. “I kept building homes, and if someone wanted to buy the home I lived in, I would sell it and build another. That’s what we did then,” he said.
From this one-man shop, the business grew, his homes got more luxurious and he became a fairly substantial builder/developer in the Springfield area. By the time he retired five years ago, Ralph K. Manley & Company had developed 18 subdivisions and built 2,000 homes, mostly single-family, but also duplexes and apartments. “In my biggest year, we built 100 homes,” he said.
Along the way, two of his three daughters followed him into the business. They both now have their own building companies.
Manley was a charter member of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield, the local association he helped found in 1954. In the ensuring years, he was the association’s president three different times and remains an active member today.
“Ralph never misses our monthly membership meetings,” said Matt Morrow, the association’s executive officer. “He always introduces our guests because he does it so well. Ralph’s a completely unique individual.”
Though Manley is retired from the industry, he is in no way “retired.” He has been a member of the Springfield city council for five years and currently serves as the mayor pro tem. In fact, he’s been active in city politics for quite some time.
“I’ve been on the zoning and planning commission and I’ve helped with the building codes,” Manley said. “You want to be able to contribute.”
Manley didn’t bat an eye when Charlyce Ruth, the association’s office manager, asked him to participate in a project to raise money for community charities in 2003. Her idea was to create a “Home Builders Hunks” calendar with each month dedicated to a different charity and featuring a builder pictured in a pose that reflects his off-the-job interests.
Manley was Mr. February and posed jumping out of a small airplane for the American Diabetes Association. Ten of the 12 builders posed shirtless. Manley wasn’t one of them.
That might have been because that year, he also had the multipurpose room in his old elementary school named after him. Going shirtless probably wasn’t appropriate for the then councilman.
“Ralph is a great example to the rest of us,” said Morrow. “He was a war hero who came back to build a very successful business, literally from the ground up. And on top of that, he gives so much back to the community. He’s the personification of the American dream.”
Said Manley, “If I were a young man today just out of college, I’d do the same thing all over again.”
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