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Monday, January 10, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ralph Neubeck, 63, Franklin High history teacher

Seattle Times staff reporter

Late last year, when Franklin High School history teacher Ralph J. Neubeck knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer, colleagues asked him to come by the school for a visit.

It was supposed to be a small gathering of friends who wanted to say farewell and tell him how he had made a difference in their lives. He expected about 20 — but arrived to find at least four times that many packed into the faculty lounge for "Ralph Neubeck Day."

One by one, colleagues, friends and former students stepped forward to pay homage, giving the longtime baseball fan a Seattle Mariners jersey and singing a tribute to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

The turnout didn't surprise friend and fellow Franklin history teacher Web Hutchins, who said Mr. Neubeck had made many friends during more than a decade at Franklin. "He was one of the most beloved staff members."

Mr. Neubeck died Dec. 17. He was 63.

He was born Aug. 29, 1941,in Manhattan, where he fell in love with baseball through visits to Ebbets Field. He later became one of the first white students to attend the traditionally all-black Howard University, a point of pride for him throughout his life, said Janine Brodine, a friend and former colleague.

He earned a doctorate in American studies from the University of Minnesota, writing his dissertation on noted New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg.

Mr. Neubeck was a wordsmith, known for his puns and his skill at Scrabble. Friends say he met his future wife, Trina Forest, at a Scrabble tournament.

Education was also a passion of Mr. Neubeck's. He taught at the University of Minnesota's General College and at Andersen Open School in Minneapolis before he joined the staff at Franklin, where

colleagues admired his ability to teach complex topics.

"His ability to take heady intellectual material and make it accessible to inner-city kids was remarkable," Hutchins said. "He was able to relate to kids on a personal, everyday level."

He easily could have landed a job closer to his home in Bremerton, but for years he chose to make the hours-long commute because he was dedicated to his job at Franklin, Brodine said.

Mr. Neubeck also was dedicated to school reform, serving on several reform committees at Franklin. Brodine, who served on a committee with him, said she was awed by his ability to be a calming influence when discussions got heated.

"In a contentious situation, he was able to pull in some humor or a pun and get people to see the middle ground," she said. "He helped put things in perspective."

Friends say they will miss his wry sense of humor and cheerfulness.

"'Neubeck' is a synonym for optimistic and outgoing," Brodine said. "I think his [positive] attitude lingers for a lot of people."

Even when he was diagnosed last spring with pancreatic cancer, he remained upbeat, Brodine said. "He strongly believed he'd lick it," she said. "That was kind of a sign of his optimism — he kept believing he'd be better."

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his parents; children David Neubeck, Lorraine Forest and Joleen Forest; a sister, a brother, three grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at Franklin High School, 3013 S. Mount Baker Blvd., Seattle.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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