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Obituary of Raymond A. Bjarnason
Raymond August Tryggvi Bjarnason
Raymond August Tryggvi Bjarnason was on May 25, 1927, at home in Hallson, North Dakota, the youngest child, and only son, of Sigurbjorn and Holmfriður (Freda Paulson) Bjarnason, joining sisters, twins Lena and Leona, and Johanna. At the death of his father, in November, 1927, his mother moved the family from Hallson to the nearby Icelandic town of Mountain (population 130) to raise her children among extended family. Ray spoke of how he and his sisters, as well as the other children in town, spoke only Icelandic until they went to school. It was in this small school that he joined a rhythm band that started his lifelong love of music.
When Ray was twelve, his mother moved the family from Mountain to Grafton, North Dakota, where he attended Grafton High School, playing trumpet in the school band and graduated in 1945. During his senior year, Ray enlisted in the Navy, but received a medical discharge due to a perforated eardrum. It was a good thing because he couldn’t swim.
In 1946, while working as a railroad station agent in McVille, North Dakota, Ray saw fifteen-year-old Shirley Jean Benson walking down the sidewalk on July 4th and offered her a ride to a nearby roller skating/ dance pavilion. Ray received the blessing of Shirley’s boss and fellow former Mountain resident Eddie Gudmundson, McVille’s pharmacist, and his wife, Opal. They were married on June 20, 1948 in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, with Eddie and Opal as their Best Man and Matron of Honor. Ray and Shirley approached their married life as a team and in 2022 they celebrated their 74th anniversary.
In 1951, during the Korean War, Ray was drafted into the Army but, luckily, was ordered to Germany instead of the Korean front. It was in Germany that he was privileged to play French Horn in the Army band.
It was in 1952 that Ray and Shirley welcomed daughter Jeannine to the family, and after Ray’s discharge from the Army in 1954, the little family, following job opportunities, moved from Marshall Minnesota, to Cedar Rapids Iowa, Anaconda Montana and, in 1960, to the Denver Metro area to settle in Wheat Ridge where, in 1963, son Timothy, was born.
As a father, Ray supported his children as they followed their respective sports, which were as different as they were. Jeannine’s love of horses and participation in the Westernaires led to hours at practices, parades and shows where Ray, as part of the “Posse”, stepped into whatever task was needed, including climbing into a “crow’s nest” to run a spotlight. Tim’s passions were baseball and basketball, so Ray devoted equal time cheering at games and acting as Tim’s catcher during pitching practice at home.
While Ray had a lengthy and diverse work resumé, he spent most of his career working at Denver Research Institute of the University of Denver, where he took part in government testing projects and became an explosives expert and manager of their test facility. When he left DRI, his “retirement” job was as the warehouse manager at LeFebure, a bank equipment company.
Ray was the consummate DIYer. His carpentry skills included building two houses from the ground up including doing his own electrical and plumbing, assorted outbuildings, storage sheds, small horse barns and furniture. As a charter member of St. Mark Lutheran Church (now Glory of God) he built the portable altar, pulpit and communion rails that moved with the fledgling church from the its temporary home in the gym at Kullerstrand Elementary School, to the Maple Grove Grange and finally to the permanent church building. His garage workshop was, and still is, well stocked and takes up the majority of the space. His neighbors quickly learned that, before making a trip to Lowe’s or Home Depot to purchase a tool, to check with him. Ray probably had whatever tool that they needed and was willing to loan it to them.
Ray was a “people person” who quickly made friends in any neighborhood that he and Shirley lived in. Shirley laughingly called him her “roving ambassador” as he would often be found visiting with any neighbor that he happened to see outdoors. His gregarious nature also shown brightly on international trips that he, Shirley and Jeannine took after his retirement. He was genuinely interested in people’s stories and once remarked “how can you learn about a country if you don’t speak with the locals?” He also had a remarkable memory for people that he met and could recognize them even after a lengthy passage of time and greeting them as though it had only been a matter of days since that had seen each other.
Ray was also known for his sense of humor and quick wit. He always had a funny story or a joke to tell to fit almost any occasion and he was known to make up quirky new lyrics to songs that he knew. His friends, family and co-workers speak of Ray keeping them laughing and of the twinkle in his eye.
Ray and Shirley lived a life of quiet faith and always gave thanks to God for their many blessings in life. Retirement allowed Ray and Shirley a greater opportunity for hands on service to their church. When their church sponsored the Lai family, from Vietnam, Ray and Shirley helped with the resettlement and made lifelong friends with this lovely family. Ray also participated with the men’s group that met monthly to maintain the church property where he could use his DIY skills and enjoy the fellowship with the other men.
Ray was preceded in death by his father Sigurbjorn Bjarnason, mother Freda Bjarnason Palmer, step-father Fred Palmer, sisters Lena (Jack) Fischer, Leona (Harold) Tanney and Johanna (Wesley) Schrank. He is survived by his wife Shirley, children Jeannine and Timothy (Stacia) Bjarnason, grandsons Tyler and Kevin Bjarnason and several nephews and nieces.