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Remembering an 'Adventurous' Spirit

Family members share stories about John Ringle.

John Ringle, a Fairfax Station developer known as the "Father of the Occoquan" for his implementation of 5-acre lots that helped preserve the quality of the river, was remembered by his family and friends as an adventurous, kind-hearted man whose generosity was only shadowed by his wanderlust.

"My dad was the kind of man who would hop out of his Rolls Royce and help a guy with no money and give him a college education," said Michelle Ringle Clay, his oldest daughter.

Following John Ringle's wake on Wednesday, Dec. 7, family members gathered at Michelle Ringle Clay's home in Stafford to share stories about him, from his early days as a Merchant Marine on the Great Lakes to his voracious appetite for foreign cultures.

"John was like everyone's dad," said Matthew Schmidt, a friend of the family who grew up with Ringle's son, Chris.

In the last few years of his life, John Ringle had taken to learning all he could about computers, Schmidt said, which included becoming enthralled with digital photography.

"He had several computers he worked on and insisted on paying me for my help," he said. "He was really into digital photography to the extent that he wanted a flat panel monitor and had several photo printers around his home."

Schmidt said he'll always remember John Ringle for his adventurous spirit. "He was riding motorcycles before they were popular. John always loved to sail and by the time I was 20, he had moved on to speed boats," he said.

John Ringle was "a true southern-style gentleman," said daughter-in-law Karin Ringle.

LISTENING TO family stories stretching back over generations, Karin Ringle said she learned "so much" about her father-in-law since his death on Dec. 2. "I didn't know that he was a pilot or that he was a boxer in high school or college. He liked living on the edge ... he had a very full life."

John Ringle "got as much value out of every minute of life that he could," said son Chris Ringle.

When Chris Ringle was in his 20s, his father taught him "some hard lessons that at the time I thought were unfair and a bitter pill to swallow," he said. "Now that I'm 41, I realize that there's no way I can ever repay him for those lessons. He made me who I am."

The two enjoyed scuba diving together and, up until his death, John Ringle promised his son they'd go on another trip to Florida "just as soon as he got better," Chris Ringle said.

Maxine Ringle met her future husband at a dinner dance in March 1953 when she was working for the Office of the Provost Marshall General in Washington.

"He was attending George Washington University for a six-week class on correctional confinement with the Army and was invited to the party by a professor he'd had at Michigan State University," Maxine Ringle said. She was working as a secretary for the Provost Marshall General, the chief of the military police corps, at the time.

Once they met, they were inseparable, Maxine Ringle said. "We saw each other every day during the six weeks he was here until he went back to Camp Gordon in Georgia and by the time we were engaged," she said.

The two were married in June 1953 at the Walter Reed Memorial Chapel at the military hospital, she said. They moved to Texas with the Army Corps of Engineers shortly thereafter and had only been there a week when they were reassigned to Fort Belvoir.

John Ringle had been working with an engineering company since his release from the Army in 1954 , helping to develop the area around Deerfield Beach, Fla. before he began the Stoner Ringle Real Estate Group.

"Their main project was developing that area's waterfront property," she said, including one area, Little Harbor on the Hillsboro. One lot in that area, which was sold for $25,000 in the 1950s, was recently up for sale with an asking price of $2.7 million without a house on it, Maxine Ringle said.

AFTER MOVING back to Fairfax County for John Ringle to finish his law degree at George Washington University, the couple began adoption proceedings for Michelle and found themselves planting roots in Northern Virginia, where Maxine grew up. It was then, in the early 1960s, that Ringle began his development of neighborhoods with 5-acre zoning that helped preserve the Occoquan watershed.

John Ringle's work in land development and engineering allowed him to travel the world, Michelle Ringle Clay said, and every time he came back from a new country, "we got to live it. When he went to a new place, he did so wholeheartedly and he tried to make everything authentic. Whatever people in that country did or ate, he wanted to be a part of it," she said.

"He bought lederhosen in Germany and he wore them the next time we went back," Maxine Ringle laughed. "People were asking him for directions."

Some of John Ringle's love of the outdoors came from his father, said sister Helen Ditz Hazy, visiting her family from Michigan.

"Our father was a surgeon and studied horticulture and that rubbed off on John," said his older sister.

She was glad to be ahead of him in school so she wouldn't have to hear teachers asking about her brother," Ditz Hazy said. "John was one of the only people I know who was able to develop the analytical and creative parts of his brain equally," she said.

However, John Ringle didn't always like to face the music for his actions.

"When my husband graduated from Michigan State in 1952, our parents came out to the graduation because John was supposed to graduate too," Ditz Hazy said. "He wanted me to tell our parents he wasn't going to graduate because even though he had a straight 'A' average, he never declared a major. He was just too interested in learning about everything to settle on one topic."

John Ringle remained "a fighter" through bouts with leukemia six years ago, which weakened his bones and contributed to a broken leg earlier this summer, said Marge Roth, a sister-in-law visiting from Minnesota.

"John never lost his spirit," she said. "He was very dear to me and my family. He was such an active man, so vital."