August 19, 2022

Messerli’s mess of ties

Ralph Messerli of Fairfield hates ties. But being a high school principal, guidance counselor, coach and teacher, he had to wear one. Over his 42 years in the public school system, first at Cardinal of Eldon for two years and the remainder at Fairfield, he accumulated a collection (or mess) of 95 ties.

You see, Ralph was a wrestler in high school and college, which was NW Missouri State at Maryville (go Bearcats!). As a wrestler, he worked out a lot in the weight room. (He is 80 years old now but still quite fit.) Weight lifting builds muscle mass and, well, a thick neck. Ties and a closed collar were just not Ralph’s comfort zone.

Therefore, when Ralph retired, he told his wife, Linda, “No more ties for me, by golly.”

But what to do with them? Ralph wanted to throw them all out or better yet, burn them. Linda suggested taking them to Goodwill but Ralph nixed that. He didn’t want to be walking down the street and see someone with one of his ties on. He had a lot of easily recognizable special occasion ties, like Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day and the 4th of July.

Then Linda thought about her sister-in-law, Lillie, who made quilts. Linda asked Lillie if she thought she could make a quilt out of all those ties. Lillie said that she would give it a try.

Voila! The Messerlis now have a beautiful hand-made tie quilt on the bed in their guest bedroom. (They keep the window shade drawn to keep the quilt from fading.) The only problem was that the quilt was too big for their guest bed so they had to go out and buy a bigger bed plus headboard. But they are proud of their tie quilt. (The May edition of “Our Iowa” magazine also has a story about the Messerli’s tie quilt.)

Not only did Lillie make a quilt out of Ralph’s ties, but also a quilt out of Ralph’s wrestling referee uniform. He was a wrestling referee all over the State of Iowa.

When Ralph retired, all of the departments of the school — English, Math, Industrial Arts, etc. — made a patch representing their department. The school nurse, Mary Hill, took those patches, hand-stitched them, and made another quilt. In fact, the Messerli home is chock full of beautiful quilts. One room is dedicated to the Messerli family and another to Linda’s family, the Teagues. There’s also a quilt made by Ralph’s mother who made quilts for all of her kids and grandkids. Quilts are an integral part of the Messerli family.

To say the Messerlis enjoy life and live life to the fullest is an understatement. They start each day at the kitchen table, with coffee, looking out the window at their pristine pond and manicured lawn. They play 10 hands of cards and talk about what they have going on for the day. The card games range from pitch, crazy eight, king’s corners to gin rummy.

One spring the Messerlis went on a genuine cattle drive. Yep. It was out in Colorado. They went with Linda’s little sister and her husband to a 2,000 head cattle ranch. Each spring there’s a cattle drive to move the herd up into the mountains for summer grazing. Then in the fall the drovers go up, brand the cattle (you should see the Messerli’s collection of branding irons, as well as other collections), and move them back down. Ralph and Linda had a great time, that is, except for Ralph’s sore derriere. But he didn’t have to wear a tie. He could breathe freely on the open range.

When Ralph’s brother’s daughter got married, she insisted that all members of the wedding party wear a tie. Ralph was an usher and said he wasn’t going to wear a tie. She said, “Well, you can’t be an usher then.” Ralph wore a tie.

Ralph has a deal with his doctor. When Ralph dies and is lying in his casket at the viewing, if he has a tie on, the doctor is to cut it off.

Contact Curt Swarm at