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RALPH A. TURGEON DIES; INNOVATIVE RESTAURATEUR

Ralph A. Turgeon's resume reads like a Who's Who of restaurant lore.

From The Riverside Inn in Lewiston to the historic Roycroft Inn in East Aurora to The Sign of the Steer on Main Street, it's a legacy unmatched in local culinary circles.

Turgeon, most often in partnership with his brother, Frank, owned and operated 22 restaurants and four hotels during a career that spanned more than five decades.

Turgeon died Thursday (Oct. 18, 2001) in his Williamsville home after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.

"Ralph's motto was 'Don't ask how you feel, ask how is your quality of life,' " said Nancy Turgeon, his wife of 21 years. "That was important to him. He lived that way."

Born in New Haven, Conn., he moved to Buffalo in 1951, armed with a bachelor's degree from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. He later received a master's degree in business administration from the University at Buffalo.

He quickly went from dishwasher and broiler cook to the architect of one of the region's biggest and most successful restaurant empires, a regional operation with 620 employees and $13 million in sales.

With his brother, he formed Turgeon Brothers Inc. and gained a reputation for turning failing restaurants into successes. He also became known for his creation of unusual steakhouse and salad bar operations as multiple-themed restaurants.

His successes ranged from The Great Gatsby and The Crouching Lion on Sheridan Drive to The Library on Bailey Avenue and The Meeting House in Clarence. He also operated eight Howard Johnson's restaurants, and it was Turgeon who persuaded the chain to offer its now-popular Friday night fish fry.

Later on, Turgeon operated the restored Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft Inn, a national historic landmark.

He went off on his own in 1977, forming Ralph Turgeon Inc. and expanding his hotel, hospitality and food service efforts by adding 45 operations in two states. They included two country clubs, a discotheque, three steakhouses and 26 other restaurants.

At the same time, his companies served as the caterer for Rich Stadium and Kleinhans Music Hall.

Turgeon gradually cut back on his involvement in the restaurant and hospitality business and, at the time of his death, still owned The Riverside Inn and The Lewiston Brew House, both in Lewiston.

Earlier this year, Turgeon was honored by the New York State Restaurant Association with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He served as association president in 1972.

Turgeon also received the Award of Excellence by la Confrerie de la Chaine de Rotisseurs, the world's oldest gastronomic organization, and was a two-time winner of the Great Menu Awards from the National Restaurant Association.

Active in the community, Turgeon was president of the QRS Arts Foundation, board member of the New York State affiliate of the American Heart Association, director of the Eggertsville-Snyder Rotary Club and a board member of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute.

Survivors include his wife, the former Nancy Nibbelink; a daughter, Marjorie Turgeon-Setzer of Williamsville; his brother, Frank A. of Columbus, Ohio; and a granddaughter.

Friends and family are invited to attend a two-day Life Remembrance Service from 1 to 5 p.m., today and Sunday, in The Chapel, Forest Lawn. The service will feature music and a collection of Turgeon's personal photographs.

A service will follow at 11 a.m. Monday in North Presbyterian Church, 300 North Forest Road, Williamsville. Burial will be in Forest Lawn.

[Fairbanks].

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