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Father, grandfather, son, brother, and businessman, Raymond F.Butler, Jr, was born on October 14th, 1952, in Youngstown, Ohio.
By the age of three, Ray was a world-traveler, accompanying his parents on countless sea-voyages aboard merchant vessels. Once, the crew of a ship thought Ray had fallen overboard, and everyone frantically searched for him until he was discovered in the engine room, laughing with some of the crew. He and his mother became inseparable on these travels, their own best company. They forged an unbreakably strong bond that united them for many decades. Ray graduated from high school in Ramsey, NJ, a bona fide hippie who drove a VW bug painted like the American flag. He briefly attended Kent State University and was a member of the Army Reserves.
He was a natural-born salesman and spent his twenties as a manufacturer’s sales representative. He met his future wife and best friend Bette in Minneapolis, where he was working as a buyer for Target, then just a young corporation. They moved to Dallas, Texas, then Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Bette delivered two sons, Nickolas, and Alex. Ray and Bette loved dancing, dining-out, traveling, and bowling together. Over the years, Bette would become Ray’s most constant caretaker, cheerleader, and defender.
In 1985 they moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where Ray started his own company. For a while, his younger brother Jack workedand lived beside him. The business grew and grew; at its apexemploying over a dozen people. Ray was the kind of boss who never really wanted to be a boss. He wanted to be a friend, a co-worker. He wasn’t too proud to step away from his desk and help in the dirty work of packing and shrink-wrapping pallets.
Ray often lived life too hard. He sought the edge in every experience. He was an American maverick, a true original, a one-of-one. He loved alcohol and cigarettes. He was a shooter and collector of firearms. He was an outdoorsman, loved campfires, splitting wood, and hunting grouse. He loved reading the newspaper alongside a cup of coffee (two creams and two sugars). He loved spontaneously baking cakes. He was the kind of person who invited foreign exchange students to his house for Thanksgiving and always bought a red plastic poppy from any vet he ever encountered. He loved the city of Chicago and itspiano bars. He loved old buildings and fought for the preservation of Eau Claire’s historic train depot. He once built a beautiful sauna on the shore of Stanley Lake, outside of Iron River, Michigan. This was his favorite place in the world. He loved music and talking to strangers. He was kind to people that the majority of society ignored, or shamed. Best of all, he loved vodka martinis real dry with a twist of lemon, up.
In the spring of 2000, he suffered a massive brain aneurysm and lived for the next twenty-three years in several different nursing home facilities. This tragedy would have quickly broken most people, but somehow, Ray flourished, an unlikely flower. He became an unlikely optimist. He lost all his rough edges. He liked to sit near the entrance of these places and greet anyone who walked by. His happiness was contagious. He sang old hymns and folksongs with his fellow residents, he laughed at corny jokes, and wept when he experienced anything joyful or beautiful. He played BINGO and stayed in bed, watching TV. Ray was a mainstay in hallways, cafeterias, and empty chapels. He complimented everyone; in his final two decades, this was his work – brightening countless peoples’ days, from janitors to pastors, deliverymen to doctors. With the grace of a holy man, he somehow loved everyone and everything.
Ray died at ten minutes after midnight on September 27th, 2023,with his two sons beside him. His big heart was exhausted, but his spirit was still fighting to burn bright. He was like a very, very old dog, who somehow kept stealing days, who appreciated every dawn, every meal, and every kind gesture, right up until the very end.
Ray is preceded in death by his father, Raymond Francis Butler, Sr. and his mother, Eleanore Constance Butler. He is survived by his friends, and bowling partners, Marilyn and John Hempel. He is survived by his ex-wife and best friend, Bette Troolin, who was with him until the end, unwaveringly. He is survived by his sister, Kate Heitman and her husband Peter. He is survived by his brothers Jack and Tom, and their wives, Judyand Mary, respectively. He is survived by his sons Nickolas and Alexander, and their spouses, Regina and Cynthia, respectively. He is survived by his five grandchildren, Henry, Eleanor, Levon, Jack, and James. He was missed tremendously the moment he slipped away, but he will never be forgotten.
A visitation will take place at Hulke Family Funeral Home on Saturday November 4, 2023, from 10AM-11. A memorial service at Hulke Family Funeral Home will conclude the visitation at 11AM.
Friends and family may offer condolences online at www.hulkefamilyfh.com.
Hulke Family Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 3209 Rudolph Road, Eau Claire, WI 54701 is assisting the family with the arrangements.