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Defending chivalry and family: Hobby symbolizes lifestyle

Managing editor

When passers-by see Ralph Noriega’s 2008 Toyota Yaris, they see interesting decals of a knight on a horse and symbols related to dragons.

On the trunk, are the words, “Dragon Rider.”

What is a dragon rider?

“A dragon rider is a peace keeper and protector of the ‘realm’,” Noriega said.

Noriega has always been a fan of knights in shining armor riding fast steeds, and promoting safety and tranquility.

The white Yaris symbolizes what Noriega does for a living and what he truly believes — for the past 20 years or so, he has been an employee of SRS, a defender of those who cannot defend themselves.

“I fight poverty, domestic violence, and abuse,” he said. “I protect children and promote adult self-sufficiency.”

He follows the code of a knight, on and off the job — chivalry, fighting forces of evil, and does not believe in injuring women or children.

His wife, Kathy, has always been intrigued with dragons.

“I’m the knight who came along and tamed the dragon,” Noriega said with a smile. “If the dragon’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

This is Noriega’s first new car which came out of necessity. When the Marion SRS office closed, he was forced to commute to work. His pickup did not get the gas mileage he wanted so he traded it for an economy car.

He wanted a black car but the dealership did not have one available at the time. So Noriega settled on a white car.

“It was a blank canvass,” he said.

The car is a work in progress, with Noriega adding decals, as he is inspired. He has plans that include dragon claws and eyes on the hood and a dragonhead on the roof

The money he has saved in fuel costs are paying for the car, Noriega said. It has been an adjustment for the six-foot-tall-plus man to drive a compact car, but it has been worth it.

Noriega lives the life of a man committed to his wife and family. While talking in his driveway, he is quick to point out the strong female influences in his life.

His mother-in-law, Joy Wildin, lives next door.

“She’s a cancer survivor. At 60, she learned how to drive a truck to pay her medical bills,” Noriega said. “Ten years later, she’s still driving. Joy is the matriarch dragon.”

For Noriega, he believes his “successful” and happy marriage of 30 years is attributed to his and Kathy’s commitment to each other and to their faith.

“The knight on his white horse and dragon are tied together to love. What is love? God is love,” Noriega said. “Taming dragons is through servitude not control.”

A couple of years ago, Kathy fulfilled her dream or, as she puts it, her midlife crisis. She purchased a Pontiac Firebird, which seemed appropriate for the “dragon.”

Recently, Noriega found his family’s crest and guess what the symbol was. A knight on a horse.

Driving his “white stead,” Noriega has received a few double takes.

“I was driving down the street and a kid, about 8 or 9 years old, saw it and loved it,” he said. “I loved his reaction.”

Noriega is willing to tell his story because it not only applies to his car but to his way of life.

“Besides, this is just an old man having fun,” he said with a laugh.

Last modified March 19, 2009

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