Begle to continue to give back in retirement

Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Ralph Begle of Huntingburg carries a bucket of water for the flowers at Teen Outback in Huntingburg on Tuesday.


HUNTINGBURG — It was in Vietnam that Ralph Begle realized how good American kids had it.

He served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army from 1969 to ‘72, and while he was abroad, he saw how other children lived; deprived of treats and toys, kicking cans for entertainment.

It didn’t click at the time. But years later, he’d make sure all youth in Dubois County would have a safe place to play and gather.

In 1998, Begle opened the nonprofit Teen Outback youth center in Huntingburg as a way to give them a place to play and shelter them from the often-dangerous world that existed outside its walls.

Naysayers told him it couldn’t and wouldn’t work. But he had a lot of help from community volunteers and donors, and all this time later, the 10,000-square-foot space still hosts a few events each month.

Begle, who was a longtime loan officer at First Bank of Huntingburg and later Freedom Bank, retired in December.

 Ralph Begle of Huntingburg waters the flowers at Teen Outback in Huntingburg on Tuesday.

He liked helping kids get their first cars and securing dream houses for young couples.

“It’s a good feeling,” Begle, 69, said of his work. “It’s a very good, satisfying feeling that you get.”

As the 45 years of his career moved on, he found himself dishing out loans to whole new generations.

He loved his coworkers and his customers, and he never wanted to retire. But eventually, it was time. He transitioned to a part-time employee at Freedom Bank a couple years ago before hanging it up for good at the end of 2018.

Now, he spends a lot of his new free time addressing maintenance issues at the Teen Outback — a place he considers his baby. He is also the organization’s board treasurer.

In his day, Begle and his friends had lots of options for places to hang out. Dance halls allowed youth to spend nights away from home when he was growing up.
But that wasn’t the case in the mid-’90s. And he wanted to change that.

A friend tipped him off to the former Huntingburg High School gymnasium, which was available. It looked rough, but it also looked like the solid skeleton of a hangout spot.

Begle contacted the Huntingburg Foundation — now the Dubois County Community Foundation — and secured a whopping $100,000 in funds for renovating and opening the Teen Outback.

“A lot of things fell into place,” Begle said. “I just felt so lucky. Timing sometimes is everything.”

He later added: “You can’t do it without the volunteers and the support. I can’t say enough about that. Through the last 21 years, it’s been that way throughout. They’ve really stepped to the plate when it comes to that.”

Throughout those years, the space has been his passion. It houses an arcade and game room, a concession room with a bar, 10 computers, video game consoles hooked up to big screen TVs and a projector, a dance floor, a room for dodgeball and much more.

Some people still think the Teen Outback is only open to Huntingburg residents. But it’s not and it never has been — it’s open to all youth.

Since retiring, Begle hasn’t struggled to fill his time. He needs a busy schedule or he risks feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day.

So, he’s remodeled his home, dug through his closet and thrown out clothes that haven’t fit for the last 10 years and traveled. When he’s not at the Outback, he volunteers at Shared Abundance in Huntingburg, and he serves on a Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard.

“Retirement was something I really didn’t look forward to,” Begle said. “But after being retired for a brief time, now about four months, it’s not bad.”

If he wants to sleep in late, he does. If he wants to take a vacation with his wife, Diane, he does. Most of all, he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, who bolt around with the energy that still courses through Papaw’s body.

“Enjoy life, because when we get older, time seems to go a little bit faster,” Begle said. “And if you worked hard all your life, hey, it’s time to definitely enjoy it out there.”

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