SUN PRAIRIE - Kenneth Howell Ray, generous and noble spirit, left his earthly life for heavenly endeavors on Friday, June 22, 2012, at the age of 85.
Ken was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, August 7, 1926, eldest child of Steel Ray and Eula (Howell) Ray. When he was just ten, during the dust-bowl year of 1936, his parents moved to California with their three boys, Kenneth, James and Coy; a bold adventure born of desperation that launched an even more venturesome life.
Ken bought his first cow in California while still only a boy, and with money he earned from selling milk bought his first Harley Davidson motorcycle. In California a fourth sibling was born: Ken's sister, Carol Ray Treadway.
Self-taught, and with his mother's signature, Ken joined the U. S. Navy at age 17 and sailed around the world as boatswain at the bow of a troop transport ship, the U. S. S. Gen. LeRoy Eltinge.
After World War II, with a Navy honorable discharge and a love of the natural physical world, Ken landed a job with Davey Tree Expert Company. There, he developed his talents in science, art, and salesmanship, becoming a Davey expert in landscape design and care of trees. Years later, in 1960, he combined these acquired skills with an enterprising spirit and took the leap of faith, forming his own company, Sierra Tree Service.
Ken proved himself again in 1973. With the buoyancy of perfect faith he sprang off a cliff on a kite and caught the wind, flying with eagles, suspended from a hang-glider. It was the first flight of many to follow.
Ken's adobe home won first prize in a landscape design contest. It featured a swimming pool integrated with a natural pond and included a diving rock and trampoline; also, a landing strip for the ultra-light aircraft that dropped the water balloons at family birthday parties.
More recently his influence spread to Wisconsin where his garden, embellished with ponds and waterfalls, drew "Garden of the Year" status in the Sun Prairie garden club and was chosen to be part of the annual tour of the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society.
Observant of nature's bounty, he walked in the natural beauty that he and God created and left the world a happier place.
Kenneth married Priscilla (Pat) Hopkins June 18, 1948, and this union produced four children: Kenneth Howell Ray, Junior (Linda); Danny Ray; Phyllis Ray Steele (Benjamin); and Deborah Ray Hinkle (Benjamin).
On April 7, 2001, Ken married Elizabeth (Rahn) Monk in Oceanside, California.
"Mr. Sunshine" or simply "Ken" to his friends, "Papa" to seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren; he acquired two more children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild via his second marriage.
Playful, yet disciplined; humble, yet dignified; prudent, albeit generous; unfailingly positive and paternal, Ken touched the hearts of many who will remember him in a Memorial Service to be held at 2:00 p.m., July 7, 2012, at the Harker/Weidemann residence, 3021 Waunona Way, Madison, Wisconsin.
On Saturday, July 14, Ken's relatives and friends from earlier years will gather in Fresno to commemorate his life. Finally, an additional service will be held at the Pro-Ecclesia Chapel of The Rosicrucian Fellowship, Oceanside, California, on July 20, 2012 at 1:00 p.m.