Ralph Maples’ morning began with a routine chore: Letting his chickens out to range. Ever since he acquired an oversized flock of 28 fowl just before the lockdown began in March, it’s how he’s started his days.
Maples looks forward to this task because it affords him with a gorgeous a.m. view of Apison. He and his wife share an 11-acre patch off Prospect Church Road with her parents, and he loves soaking in the scenery.
Like slipping on his Chukka boots after he’s dressed, he usually completes this errand without incident, so he wasn’t expecting what happened next.
As Maples turned his heels to walk back to his house, he spotted a red-shouldered hawk sitting in a tree, watching him. “He was waiting for an opportunity,” Maples says. “So I shooed him away and put my flock back in the pen.”
With the exception of the unwelcome predator, Maples’ morning began as many throughout his life have – in the company of animals. Even as boy growing up in Ft. Oglethorpe and Boynton, his family had chickens, a pig and “a pony or two.”
“My grandparents on my dad’s side raised horses and whatnot, and I was already riding when I was a little thing,” the 57-year-old Maples says through a salt-and-pepper Monopoly Man mustache and his long, Gandalf the Grey beard. His Indiana Jones-style fedora is resting within reach on a conference room table.
But the thing that comes after Maples’ morning routine changed dramatically in 2019. After 27 years of teaching biology and ecology in local schools, he retired from education and became a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Pryor Realty in Chattanooga.
“There just came a day when I was done teaching,” he says matter-of-factly. “I drove here the day I tendered my papers.”
Maples’ decision to become a real estate agent was not without precedent. He and his wife had built houses as part of their retirement plan, and he was a big proponent of homeownership.
“When you buy a house, it’s an automatic savings account,” he says. “Your equity keeps building. But when you rent, you’re investing in someone else.”
Maples’ drive to Pryor Realty wasn’t a random act, either. The firm’s managing broker, Robert Backer, had sold houses for his family, and Maples says he believed that relationship would help him get his foot in the door.
Backer, however, greeted him with a quizzical look. “He knew me when I was teaching at Tyner (High School) and had shaved all my hair,” Maples says with a grin. “It took him a minute to recognize me.”
Maples says his only financial goal with real estate is to make more money than he did as a teacher. “I spent a lot of time busting my butt for little reward,” he explains. “Yeah, it was great to see the kids go off and do great things, but it puts a lot of wear and tear on you.
“There’s a lot of wear and tear with real estate, too, but it’s fun and it gives back what you put into it.”
Maples has what he says is an equally important second goal in real estate: serving his community. He estimates he impacted close to 3,000 children during his nearly three decades as a teacher, and now he wants to do the same for his clients.
“Teaching impacts lives, but you can change lives with real estate, too,” he continues.
While Maples is pleased with the amount of business he’s done during his 10 months as a Tennessee- and Georgia-licensed Realtor, he says a failed transaction with a man who was facing foreclosure taught him that changing lives through real estate won’t always be easy.
“I could have bailed him out,” he laments. “He wanted to sell his house, and even though it wasn’t in great shape, I was like, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’”
Maples and his client had six weeks to stop the foreclosure. Although Maples claims they received two solid offers, the man held out for more money and lost his home. “That broke my heart. He could have changed his life.”
Maples admits he still wonders if he did enough to convince his client to accept one of the offers, even though the man broke into tears on several occasions. But he says whatever happened, he’s not changing his approach.
“I’m not going to mince words. I’m going to be honest and upfront and look out for you,” he says. “Basically, I’m going to be me.”
Maples had other adventures before becoming a teacher and then a Realtor, beginning with working in the carpet and dye industry after graduating from Ringgold High School. Believing his destiny lie elsewhere, he then joined the U.S. Navy.
During his decadelong stint with the military, he served as a fire controlman on the USS Ramsey and then in weapons direction systems on the USS Chandler, a guided missile destroyer that took him to the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm.
During his time of service on the USS Chandler, the destroyer set the record for the most transits through the Strait of Hormuz. “We did 14 transits in 24 hours while escorting tankers in and out,” he says, smiling at the memory.
Maples was born in a small town doctor’s clinic and grew up at a time when no one batted an eye at seeing a 5-year-old riding his bike from Cindy Circle in Ft. Oglethorpe to the drugstore a few miles away. But the Navy showed him the world, taking him to Australia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and across the equator twice.
Maples was contemplating a military career when the Navy began offering early outs. Longing to move from his station in San Diego to the East Coast to be closer to family, he seized the opportunity and returned home.
When Maples couldn’t find employment in electronics, he became a science teacher. “I’m happiest in the woods, turning rocks and stumps and logs over to see what’s under them,” he says.
After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and then a master of education at Lincoln Memorial University, Maples taught biology and ecology at Tyner High School. He especially enjoyed teaching ecology, as it allowed him to take his students outside rather than bury their faces in a book.
“Golly, there are all kinds of learning opportunities to be had outside. We’d sit and learn how to be field biologists by observing and writing down things,” he recalls. “The tests they’re giving nowadays don’t reflect the true learning that’s going on.”
When Hamilton County Schools opened East Hamilton, Maples decided he would make a great middle school teacher. After a couple of years of teaching there, he arrived at a different conclusion. “They didn’t get my sense of humor, and I was spending too much time dealing with crying kids,” he remembers. “I’m glad I found out I wanted to teach to older kids.”
Maples was teaching at East Hamilton High School when he changed careers. “I just decided it was time for me to do something else, and that something else was real estate,” he says. “I put it in the good Lord’s hands that day.”
Although Maples is no longer teaching, he likely still gets outdoors more than the average Realtor. As a certified Tennessee Naturalist, he’ll be assisting REI Chattanooga with its sand crane cruises this fall, and he’s serving as the Webelos leader of Cub Scout pack 3430 at Apison United Methodist Church.
In addition to spending as much time camping, hiking and exploring caves and waterfalls as his new career allows, he enjoys volunteering wherever he can be useful. In 2019, he served as the East Brainerd zone coordinator for the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Rescue, and this year he might be doing a little cleanup of his own.
“My pet peeve is tires on the road, so you might see me off the side of the road throwing a tire in the back of my truck,” he says. “I appreciate what God has given us to run around on and believe we need to respect it.”
Maples also finds himself cast in the role of student again, three decades after earning his education credentials. Although he has two grown children and several grandchildren, he and his wife have two young children who are teaching him that parenting in 2020 differs greatly from rearing children in the 1980s.
“What people expect from parents has changed,” he says, shaking his head. “Your kids have to have the same material things as everyone else or people look down on you. Others scrutinize you more, too.”
Maples does his best to ignore the external pressure and raise his children – 8-year-old Evie and 11-year old Remy – his way. It’s one of the reasons he bought the chickens.
“We had chickens growing up, and I learned a lot about them,” he says. “I want my kids to have the same experience and whatnot.”
Maples just wishes he hadn’t acquired such a sizable flock. “I thought attrition would cull their numbers a bit,” he adds, shaking his head again. “We definitely got way more than we needed.”
Maybe that’s what the red-shouldered hawk was thinking, too, and it just wanted to help.