Ralph Knapp was diagnosed in 2014 with stage IV kidney cancer and used the opportunity to increase research funding and bring hope to patients everywhere.
With heavy hearts and profound sadness, we announce the passing of Ralph Knapp, a founder of KidneyCAN and leader of our mission to accelerate cures for kidney cancer. Ralph brought a unique energy and entrepreneurial acumen to kidney cancer advocacy, and despite his health challenges, was never without a smile and a hug for everyone. He was a model of faith and optimism, and our team will miss him enormously.

We are committed to carrying Ralph’s mission forward. His obituary is posted here. Read on to learn about his life and work as told by those who knew and loved him well.

“A One of a Kind Human”

When Ralph passed away, one common expression came up in the condolences shared by friends, family, doctors, and researchers. They all said Ralph was “one of a kind.” We asked his friends to share what made Ralph so uniquely impactful. 

“I’ve learned a lot about Ralph over the last few weeks, through stories from his dear friends and family members. Apparently, as a kid, Ralph was driven to be the “best” at whatever he set his mind to, whether it was baseball, surfing, and then as an adult, golf.  He was a visionary and would set professional and personal goals to achieve. Ralph was also a relationship builder. He cultivated relationships and had a unique approach to inspiring those around him, whether it was his employees or his golf buddies. For me, there is one word to describe Ralph’s personality — tenacious.  Once Ralph set his mind on something, he never gave up and was not deterred until he reached his goal.”
– Jolene, Ralph’s sister-in-law

“Ralph had a humble, boyish, innocent transparency that made him so easy to be with. He genuinely liked people and was interested in them and their stories.”
– Beckie, a friend from Trinity Church

“What made Ralph unique to me was his aura of positive energy, and his very definite opinions. He had a great sense of humor! His love for Brenda was also inspiring.”
– Meg, a friend from Port St. Lucie

“Of all the people I have cared for over the years as a nurse, Ralph stands out as a very special, “one of a kind” patient, friend, person, and cancer survivor. He was an amazing example for all. Ralph outsmarted this devastating illness at the onset with his incredible attitude, his will to survive, his desire to be a great example, and faith like no other. He was on fire to help as many others with cancer that he could. Every time he had information to share, like new clinical trials, fundraising events, support for the kidney cancer medical community, he would alert me to notify others. He was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I’ve ever known.

Ralph always saw the best in people and knew exactly what to say to lift peoples’ spirit and to motivate them. He showed a special interest in inspiring and encouraging youngsters to do their best and did what he could to help them identify and bring out their special talents. He was one of God’s humblest and most wonderful servants here on earth.”
– Pamela, a friend from Virginia Beach

“What I loved about Ralph was his lack of guile. He was very comfortable ‘in his own skin.’ You never had to wonder if Ralph was keeping something unsaid or hiding something. If you asked him a question, you got an answer, and he didn’t worry a whole lot about whether you liked his answer or not, yet without being hurtful. That was unique.”
– Ron, a Virginia Beach friend

“Ralph was unique in his approach to his illness. His friendly, positive, welcoming persona totally didn’t match up with what he was dealing with! Each good outcome, positive test result, and new treatment possibility were greeted with ‘to God be the glory!’ His faith and trust were inspiring, even on his weakest days.”
– Nancy and Tom, Virginia Beach friends

“Ralph had a big personality. He formed relationships instantly and saw the positives in everything and everyone.”
Dave met Ralph back in the 1980s, and though they were instantly friends, they were a mismatched golfing pair. Dave had been a professional golfer, while Ralph was just beginning and, according to Dave, “such a bad golfer that nobody wanted to play with him.”

Ralph was so passionate about learning the game that Dave enjoyed playing with him. Over the years, says Dave, “Ralph got much, much better, and I got worse, so we were good partners over time.”

Everybody liked Ralph, even if they didn’t agree with him or share a particular opinion. He was just so charismatic. He’d been a car salesman, and that part of his personality never left him. He talked to everyone and made friends everywhere. 

Dave tells about a funny time they were flying out to Whistling Strait in Kohler, Wisconsin, a favorite golfing spot. Ralph ran into friends on the airplane, saw other friends when they landed, and still other friends when they flew back. 

Ralph told Dave that he knew the work he was doing to generate research funding for kidney cancer would likely not help him personally, but he knew it could help many others, and that was enough to keep him hopeful. 

“I got to see an evolution in Ralph’s life that not many others did. He started as a car salesman and grew into the owner of a very successful business. He went from a disciple of Zig Ziglar to a disciple of Jesus Christ. And he was always learning, always trying to get better.”

Lots of Laughter, Inspiring Memories

 

We asked Ralph’s friends to share some of their fondest memories of Ralph, as well as how they’d like others to remember him.  

“Ralph and his wife, Brenda, moved mountains to bring attention to the urgent need for research to cure kidney cancer. They brought together the brightest stars in the kidney cancer field, and the foundation they established is the most dedicated in the world to finding a cure for kidney cancer. Ralph Knapp was a selfless warrior and offered not only his finances but also his body for medical research trials that showed any hope for himself and others.

With all his great accomplishments, Ralph never lost his humble spirit. One day while I was sitting by his bed holding his hand, he opened his eyes briefly and gave me that lighthearted roll of the eyes that everyone who knows him understands, as if to say, ‘Can you believe all this commotion going on around me?'”
– John, a friend from Trinity Church

“Though he lived for years with chronic pain and difficulty breathing, and fatigue, Ralph persevered, prayed, and pushed himself beyond the point that would have disheartened most others. He and Brenda really did their homework when it came time to select doctors, hospitals, and the care that would ultimately get Ralph to enjoy many more surprising and unexpected years of his life. Ralph didn’t just survive, he lived! He enjoyed his life with his incredible wife who was always by his side. He played golf, traveled, built beautiful things, kept up with and checked in on friends and acquaintances to make sure they were okay and to ask if there was anything he could do to help them. Ralph always put others first.”
– Pamela

“For me, my favorite thing was witnessing Ralph’s transformation after his diagnosis, embracing his faith. The diagnosis changed his heart, mind, and soul. Through his passion for finding a cure and surviving kidney cancer, he changed the landscape of the kidney cancer community. Once he found out about the lack of funding to find a cure, he was determined to make a difference.”
– Jolene

“My favorite memory of Ralph was him following Brenda in the club championship while also encouraging me as her opposition! Another favorite memory was of him dancing with Brenda as he came through the door for his 60th birthday celebration. Ralph was simply an amazing, positive force while under tremendous stress and adversity. He’ll always me my hero.”
– Meg

“Anita and I were playing a board game with Ralph and Brenda some years ago, and it was my wife’s turn. She was agonizing over her next move and time began to drag. Finally, in a game where fewer points is better, Ralph said “Anita, you’ve got 400 points and everyone else has 100. What difference does it make, just play!” Because of Ralph’s gift of being able be direct without being hurtful, all we could do was laugh. That was classic Ralph.”

– Ron

Lessons from Ralph’s Life

 What can the rest of us learn from Ralph – as a person, as a patient, as an advocate?

 

  • Ralph was a warrior for clinical trials, always encouraging people to participate — if not for themselves, then for others.
  • Be your own advocate! Ask providers the tough questions, get yourself to the best care possible. No one can fight the fight for you.
  • Advocate for others! Getting involved in research funding makes a difference. It saves lives. When Ralph set his mind to funding a trial, he raised $300,000 in ten days.
  • Everyone needs a “Brenda.” As his partner, her vibrant, organized, loving, strong, lighthearted, and peaceful support of Ralph surely brought courage and comfort beyond measure.
  • Keep living! Ralph traveled, golfed, shared precious times with his friends, and persevered in his faith to the end, bringing others along with him.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7

We at KidneyCAN sincerely thank Brenda and Ralph’s family and friends for sharing their memories and for telling his story. 

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