SMITHFIELD – Local icon Ralph Roylance passed away Monday morning. He was 96.
Until recently, Ralph Roylance owned and operated Smithfield Implement, one of Cache Valley’s oldest continuously operating businesses and an enterprise that has retained its unique character while maintaining an unbroken record of commercial success.
Roylance was the second generation of his family to run Smithfield Implement, having inherited the business from his father, the late J.M. Roylance.
The third generation of that clan, Bart Roylance, had been understudying his father for years, patiently learning everything necessary to eventually take the helm at Smithfield Implement.
Smithfield Implement was originally incorporated in 1914. The business was then purchased seven years later by J.M. Roylance, a veteran of military service in World War I.
As a child in the 1930s, Ralph Roylance never envisioned growing up to run Smithfield Implement; his dreams were focused on a career in professional sports.
While that might seem an unrealistic expectation, Roylance actually had the natural talent to make that dream come true. He excelled in football, baseball and track and field events throughout his high school and college years in the 1940s.
His accomplishments in track and field were so memorable that he was inducted into the Utah Sport Hall of Fame in the year 2000, more than 50 years after those events. Only illness kept him from joining the U.S. Olympic Team as a javelin thrower.
Roylance was a veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy during the closing days of World War II. He was just in time to see the climactic battle of the war, the invasion of Okinawa in April of 1945. It was the only conflict in the Pacific where the Navy endured heavy casualties from desperate Kamikaze attacks.
In all, the U.S. Fifth Fleet suffered the loss of 36 ships sunk, 368 ships damaged, nearly 5,000 sailors killed or drowned, an additional nearly 5,000 sailors wounded and 763 aircraft lost.
After the war, Roylance returned to Cache Valley to pursue a degree at Utah State University.
He earned acclaim in athletics at Utah State. He excelled in the javelin toss and went on to become USU’s first All-American in Track & Field competition.
He also received honorable mention as an all-conference running back, averaging 7.8 yards per carry for the Aggie football team.
Roylance planned to test himself in international javelin competition during a 1950 tour of Europe and at the 1952 Olympics, but was thwarted by recurring bouts of malaria he had contracted during World War II.
He had planned to pursue athletic coaching after graduating from Utah State University in 1950, but local coaches told him: “Don’t be an idiot! Go into your family’s business.”
Given that his college degree was in business administration, that seemed like good advice. Roylance went to work at Smithfield Implement on a full-time basis when he was in his early 20’s. He quickly discovered that the retail business could be as challenging as sports.
In the early 1950s, Roylance recalled during an interview around the turn of the 21st Century, the population of Smithfield was about half the size it is now. Much of his father’s business involved serving out-of-town customers, including farmers from as far away as Tremonton, Preston and Afton, WY.
The biggest selling items at Smithfield Implement in those days were repair parts for farm equipment.
Back then, Smithfield Implement occupied a small building on the corner of Main Street and 100 North.
Its neighbors were six other businesses: a post office, a drug store, a confectionary, a butcher shop, a plumbing supply and a barber shop.
Through what he calls “pick and shovel work,” Roylance acquired those properties over a period of years.
Those acquisitions allowed Smithfield Implement to grow from 3,300 square feet of retail space to more than 16,000 square feet.
Little evidence of those former businesses now remains above ground in Smithfield, but their cellars still provide storage spaces beneath the parking lots that surround the business.
Infrequent visitors to that maze of underground passageways often refer to them as the “catacombs of Smithfield Implement.”
While his business prospered, Roylance kept busy earning a legendary reputation in local and state sports competition. He pitched for the Smithfield Blue Sox for 15 years, breaking many strike-out and base-stealing records.
He also learned to ski at age 40 and competed aggressively in ski races throughout the western United States for decades.
Fifty years after graduating, Ralph Roylance was inducted in the USU Sports Hall of Fame in the year 2000 in what he called “his proudest moment.”
“Good thing that I wasn’t waiting by the telephone with bated breath,” he said with tongue-in-cheek during his acceptance speech.
Details about Roylance’s funeral have yet to be announced.