Thursday night was about more than football for Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow.
In between shaking hands with fans, making radio appearances and posing for photos with his mother, Marty, Ragnow’s emotions ran high. He was joined by dozens of others at Eddie Merlot’s in Bloomfield Hills for the inaugural “Dine with The Pride” fundraising event, hosted by Ragnow’s nonprofit charity, The Rags Remembered Foundation. This was the first event hosted by the foundation.
Rags Remembered is named after Ragnow’s father, Jon, who died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2016. The foundation’s primary focus is inspired by Jon’s love for the outdoors — something he and Frank have in common — and aims to support grieving families and disadvantaged youth, while also providing therapeutic nature experiences.
As Frank Ragnow welcomed almost every attendee he saw, he couldn’t help but think of his dad.
“My dad was incredible, I can’t say it enough,” Ragnow said. “One thing that a lot of people told me at (his) funeral was he had the ability to make everybody feel like they’re the most important person in the room. I don’t think I accomplish that like my dad did, but I definitely try to.”
The foundation’s name derives from Jon’s high school nickname that stuck with him throughout his life. Ragnow doesn’t really know where it comes from — he likes to assume it’s just from the Ragnow last name.
As part of its inaugural event, the foundation conducted a silent auction where attendees bid for unique prizes. This included signed jerseys from Ragnow, Lions’ first-round selections Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams, Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders and Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, among others. Also up for grabs were pop culture items, such as a signed Star Wars blaster by actor Harrison Ford.
Ragnow’s favorite prize? A fishing trip one attendee won with Ragnow himself. The pair will hit the water at either the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, or St. Clair River after the Lions’ 2022 season.
The 26-year-old has taken several of his teammates on fishing trips this offseason, including Jared Goff, Jonah Jackson, Tommy Kraemer, Logan Stenberg and Tom Kennedy. This is one of Ragnow’s biggest ways to unwind, and it stems from trips he took with his father.
The family owns a cabin in Canada only accessible by boat or plane. Jon took Ragnow and his younger brother, Jack, on “guys trips” there every May as the two grew up. Ragnow said some of his favorite child memories were made in that cabin. Every time they went, there was a new adventure.
Ragnow misses his dad most when he thinks back to those moments. And that’s one of the chief reasons he launched Rags Remembered — to help people tackle grief.
“Everybody goes through it,” Ragnow said. “Unfortunately, I think everybody at one point in their life is going to have grief. To (grieving) kids, there’s no timetable or perfect way to get through it. I’m over five years out and I’m still trying to get through it. So, just take it day-by-day (and) try to see the positive light.”
Ragnow was placed on injury reserve with a toe injury last October, causing him to miss the rest of the Lions’ season. However this gave the 2018 first-round draft pick ample time to build his foundation. Though he said he got way too much downtime because of the injury, it allowed him to take his time away from the game and visit people with similar experiences to his.
And Ragnow couldn’t be more thankful for his teammates, he said. Whether it’s joining him for fishing trips or just to chat about life, Ragnow said the Lions have always had his back.
“Since day one, the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan (have) really embraced me,” Ragnow said. “I can’t say that enough, how appreciative I am. My teammates have always been very special. … (There’s) a bunch of good dudes in that locker room.”
The 2020 Pro Bowler and his group of good dudes are entering their second season under coach Dan Campbell. Ragnow is excited about the direction Campbell’s taking the group with his “one day a time” mentality.
Campbell recently showed his team footage of how Rich Strike won the 2022 Kentucky Derby after entering with 80-1 odds. Campbell believes Detroit should go into this season hoping to accomplish a similar feat, and Ragnow agrees wholeheartedly.
“That clip’s incredible,” Ragnow said of Rich Strike’s win. “That guy really does come out of nowhere. But, I think the great thing about (the NFL) is that no matter what, anything can happen. Every year is a new year, whether people realize it or not.
“It’s such a competitive league, and that’s what really gives you optimism for the season every year.”
Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at The Detroit Free Press and can be reached at CEngelbrecht@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.