Imagine for a moment that you have led an extremely successful life, earning a fortune and a bit of fame and have been blessed with a good
family and a multitude of friends.
Now imagine that the time has come to retire and live out the rest of your life as you desire, free from the burden of
work, your children grown and living their own lives. How would you choose to spend your retirement? Do you see yourself on the deck of a cruise ship, perhaps
reminiscing about your glory days?
Paul Ramsey, a Des Moines native turned Hollywood real estate broker, found himself considering this very option, but
decided that this prospect was "about as interesting as watching paint dry." Instead of spending his fortune on entertainment and unnecessary luxuries, Ramsey
got a philanthropic itch to put that money to use for the good of others in the place he had called home for six summers of his childhood -- Mount Ayr.
he has certainly made a name for himself now, Ramsey was not born into privilege. His mother, Madge Adelia Lesan, was a farm girl and the first woman to
attend Drake University. His father, Theodore Ramsey, was a car salesman. His parents committed what was a social taboo at the time by getting a divorce when
Ramsey was nine, leaving Ramsey to move in with his grandmother Lesan in Mount Ayr.
It was no doubt difficult for such a young child to be uprooted from his
home and moved away from his parents. The blow was softened however by the fact that Ramsey had loving and supported extended family members like his uncle
Clyde Lesan, his aunt and uncle Jennie and George Vance, and his Grandmother Ramsey who stepped in to fill the gap left by his mother and father.
owned farms around Mount Ayr and Lesanville, and Ramsey visited them frequently, gaining experience and appreciation for farm life and the towns themselves.
He grew to love Mount Ayr and considered it home.
The years flew by and Ramsey's dream of being a successful real estate businessman led him to pursue
opportunities in Los Angeles, CA. Listening to the things he got involved in, everything from working for the FBS, to serving in the Navy in World War II,
to making friends with big-name stars such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe and Walt and Roy Disney, it seems there were many highlights in
Ramsey's life. Even with all this excitement going on however, Mount Ayr was never far from his mind.
"I used to praise Mount Ayr until everyone was
probably sick of hearing it," Ramsey recalled.
Ramsey made a name and fortune for himself when he and his friend Lee Shilling started a real estate
business out of Ramsey's car in 1953 in Los Angeles. After making their first $24,950 deal with an A-level movie director in Hollywood, the Ramsey-Shilling
company was able to move into the garage, then into the home, and finally to their first office.
Though it took them a little time to get going, their
skill and dedication to a number of honorable core values led them to become one of the largest and most successful rest estate companies in Los Angles, and
their integrity has earned them an outstanding reputation for doing what's right.
He married Patricia Paul, and the two of them had twin sons, Patrick and
Paul II. The four of them lived in Newport Beach, CA while Ramsey's company grew.
Success in the real estate business was a gateway to other successful ventures,
such as owning restaurants, yacht clubs, hotels and more. By this time Ramsey has amassed a significant fortune and was able to retire. That is where Mount
Ayr reentered the picture. Ramsey wanted to return to his roots and revisit the town that had always occupied such a fond place in his heart.
he returned, it was not quite the way that he remembered it. Its people had maintained their warm-hearted charm and a few of the long-standing businesses that
he remembered were still [Page 9] in operation, but some of the town square had fallen into disrepair and many of the establishments that he remembered
from his childhood were gone. Lesanville, which held similarly affectionate memories for him, had gone from a prosperous railroad community into a ghost town.
Ramsey saw it as an opportunity to give back to a community that had done so much for him when he was growing up. He began to do what Ramsey does best: dream
and make deals.
His first project in Ringgold county was to restore his aunt and uncle Jennie and George Vance's farm. Ramsey had visions of rebuilding it
to depict rural life from the late 1880s to the mid-1950s and making it into a historical tourist attraction to introduce children and other folks who have
grown up in urban areas to old-time farm life.
In 2001, he purchased the 180 acres of land and commissioned Amish carpenters to build the barn. But
Ramsey did not stop with replicating the barn. He went on to rebuild Lesanville altogether, complete with a church, cemetery, school, post office and
other buildings. Ramsey was confident from the beginning that the project would be a success.
"I'm an optimist," he said. "I expect all [of my business
ventures] to be successful," he said. His optimism was not misplaced: Ramsey Farm has never had trouble finding enough guests to reserve its facilities for
their events, including some from Hollywood.
Ramsey's efforts to revitalize Mount Ayr didn't end with Ramsey Farm. He then began to see other
opportunities for improvement around town.
Ramsey recalled taking his wife Patricia to stay at the old Mount Ayr Motel. "I left her there for about 15
minutes to run an errand," Ramsey recalls. "By the time I got back, she was ready to get back in the car because the place smelled so bad."
who was always encouraging his friends in California to come and stay in Mount Ayr, it only seemed logical that he should make sure there was a nice place to
stay when they got here. He therefore purchased the land that now houses the current Mount Ayr Inn and rally other investors to get their project underway.
Some of the other projects Ramsey has been involved in around Mount Ayr have included the Mount Ayr Chamber of Commerce building, Aunt Jennie's Attic,
the Princess Theater and Ramsey Supper Club, among others. As Ramsey purchased property and planted businesses and the people of the community have
also donated their time and talents to realizing his visions, the shine that Ramsey remembered from his younger years has been returning to Mount Ayr.
He wants to see the town continue to expand. "I've always had a bit of an inferiority complex about Mount Ayr, and I wanted to put it on the map," Ramsey
explained. "I don't want to see it get too big though; that would spoil it."
His goal is to rejuvenate the town so that non-locals can't help but
notice its charm and be drawn to it, but he wants it to retain its small-town
values and friendliness. Part of his plan for achieving this goal is to preserve the turn of the century style buildings around the square.
He believes that
this is key to the aesthetic appeal of the town and will help draw more visitors and hopefully new citizens.
"There are so many people who want to go back
to the traditions of the good old days," Ramsey observed. "Everyone longs for a hometown, and I want [those who don't have one] to be able to adopt Mount Ayr
as their hometown."
Ramsey has a few other projects in the works right now, including Heartland Energy Solutions. Originally, there had been plans for this
wind turbine plant to be built elsewhere in Iowa, but Ramsey was able to persuade the company to locate to Mount Ayr instead.
He names this as the most
difficult endeavor he's taken on so far, and notices that some are becoming discouraged by the slow progress.
"Rome wasn't built in a day," Ramsey said.
"We've had some people from the Netherlands and Germany, experts in wind energy, visit and they ask us what kind of resources and how many people we have
to work with. They were very impressed by how much progress has been made in such a short time."
Some of Ramsey's other visions are still under wraps at
this time, but he was able to disclose that there were plans in the works to increase educational opportunities in Mount Ayr in affiliation with Graceland
After hearing about the amazing positive difference that this one man has been able to put in motion, it is easy for the sparks of his
enthusiasm to catch flame in others.
Unfortunately not everyone has the sort of money and resources available to them that Ramsey does. For those who want to
help improve their community, Ramsey advises: "You have to be a dreamer, have an education, and a good work ethic. Then all you have to do is live your
Last year, Ramsey's wife fell ill and it became clear that she would need around the clock care for the rest of her life. After being unimpressed
with the level of care provided by hospitals and nursing facilities in Newport Beach, CA, Ramsey brought her back to his beloved Mount Ayr where he knew
that she would be well cared for.
"[The staff at Ringgold County Hospital and Clearview Nursing Home] treat her as if she were their own aunt or
grandmother," Ramsey said. "When people tank me for what I've done for Mount Ayr, I tell them that Mount Ayr has done a hundred times more for me."