Ketner celebrates his 95th birthday

Published 12:10 am Monday, September 21, 2015

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — A gathering of family, friends and colleagues joined Food Town/Food Lion cofounder Ralph Ketner Sunday afternoon in marking his 95th birthday.

The celebration was held at the Country Club of Salisbury with several in the audience giving toasts and offering their salutes to the man whose radical low-price approach on groceries helped transform Salisbury-based Food Town into the country’s fastest-growing grocery chain as Food Lion.

As company president during its huge growth years, Ketner became highly identified with the slogan LFPINC — Lowest Food Prices in North Carolina.

His daughter, Linda Ketner, said Sunday, he also should be associated with the letters BHINC — Biggest Heart in North Carolina.

Over the years, Ketner has given millions of dollars back to the community through his philanthropic gestures.

The company’s growth through the 1970s and 1980s also made millionaires of many of the original investors, who staked Ketner, his brother Brown Ketner and their friend Wilson “Bill” Smith to the funds they needed to start Food Town with one store in 1957.

Ronnie Smith said his late father, Wilson Smith, thought the world of Ralph Ketner and considered him to be like a brother. Ketner said Sunday Wilson Smith showed incredible patience in being able to put up with Brown and him for even two weeks, let alone many years.

Ketner’s son, Robert, said his father had been a fabulous role model, father, grandfather and business visionary. Pam Thompson, a business professor at Catawba College who played a large part in creation of a 50-minute documentary on Ketner’s life, “Lessons in Leadership,” said Ketner continues to inspire Catawba students.

Ketner has an office at Catawba’s Ketner School of Business, from where he still offers advice and life lessons for those who stop by. Starting today, the documentary produced by Food Lion and Catawba College will be going to high schools across the state, along with lesson plans for teachers.

Among Sunday’s guests was one of Ketner’s sisters, Dorothy Swing. “I’m the only person in this whole room,” she said, “who has known Ralph his entire life.”

Swing said she was thankful for Ketner and what he has meant in her life, a sentiment repeated many times Sunday, even with a poem by attorney Mona Lisa Wallace.

Ketner’s celebration included a chocolate birthday cake, but before invitations went out, he had insisted on no presents.

“I wanted presence,” he said, thanking everyone who came.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.