John Gails Ragsdale Jr. (1924–2020)
John Gails Ragsdale Jr. was an engineer, philanthropist, and author whose writing topics included Dutch oven cooking and Arkansas history.
John G. Ragsdale Jr. was born in El Dorado (Union County) on September 11, 1924, the son of lawyer, judge, and politician John Gails Ragsdale and Dimple Hill Ragsdale. He had one brother.
After graduating from high school in 1942, he attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County); his studies were interrupted by service in the U.S. Army in 1945–1946. He graduated in 1947 with a degree in engineering. While at UA, he met Dora Dean “DeDe” Johnson; the couple wed in 1946 and had two sons and two daughters.
Ragsdale worked from 1947 to 1981 for the Lion Oil Company and the Monsanto Oil Company after it acquired Lion, and then for the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission from 1984 to 1992. He was an active volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America for more than fifty years and worked with many other organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the University of Arkansas Libraries, the Ozark Society, the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources Foundation, Arkansas Community Foundation, Ozark Folk Center, and the Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. He served six years on the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) and endowed the J. G. Ragsdale Award for that organization to recognize the best book on Arkansas history published within the previous two years; it is named for Ragsdale’s father, who was a founder of the AHA.
John and DeDe Ragsdale also supported several Arkansas universities and endowed the John G. Ragsdale Jr. and Dora J. Ragsdale Professor of Arkansas Studies position at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia (Columbia County).
During his years of working with the Boy Scouts, Ragsdale became an expert in cooking with Dutch ovens, and in 1973 he wrote Dutch Oven Cooking, which enjoyed brisk sales after being included in the Boy Scout catalog. It remains in print in the twenty-first century and has sold more than 300,000 copies. Ragsdale performed Dutch oven cooking demonstrations at the Historic Arkansas Museum, Ozark Folk Center, and other places.
He also wrote Shuler Field, Arkansas: A Historical Summary of Fifty Years of Oil Production 1937–1987 (1987), Campers’ Guide to Outdoor Cooking (1989), Dutch Ovens Chronicled: Their Use in the United States (1991), and the biographical As We Were in South Arkansas (1995), in addition to a number of historical journal articles.
In 2001, Ragsdale worked with state Senator Joseph K. Mahony to develop Senate Bill 402, which would designate the Dutch oven as Arkansas’s official state cooking vessel. The Arkansas General Assembly approved the bill, and it became Act 476 of 2001.
Ragsdale died on June 21, 2020, in Cypress, Texas, and is interred in the mausoleum at El Dorado’s Arlington Memorial Park.
For additional information:
“John G. Ragsdale, Jr. (obituary).” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 5, 2020, p. 8K.
John G. Ragsdale interview, October 13, 2003. Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries Arkansas Memories Project.
Ragsdale, John G., [Jr.]. As We Were in South Arkansas. Little Rock: August House, 1995.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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