Brenda and Tom Ray were married for 59 years and died within three days of each other this past month, surrounded by loving family members. They died in their beloved home that they built 25 years ago in the woods off of 550 overlooking stunning views of Lake Superior and Partridge Island.
Brenda died on Saturday, February 3, 2018, aged 81, and Tom on Tuesday, aged 83. For the past ten years they both lived with long-term illnesses while still doing what they loved best: visiting with their children, grandchildren, and many friends, watching MSNBC news, and sitting in front of their floor-to-ceiling living room windows, soaking in the constant interplay of waves, trees, clouds, birds, and light.
Brenda and Tom moved to Marquette in 1982 when Tom became the Episcopal bishop of Northern Michigan, a position he held for 17 years until his retirement. Brenda helped found the Marquette chapter of Habitat for Humanity; she was a member of two book clubs in town for 25 years, and active in the Episcopal Church. She spent many years designing their home and supervising its construction and was an accomplished gardener. Tom’s career was marked by early leadership for women’s and gay rights in the Episcopal church of Saint Luke’s of Evanston, Illinois, and as bishop of Northern Michigan he continued that leadership at the national level. He and many others who joined him, including his long-time colleague and successor Bishop Jim Kelsey, put the Diocese of Northern Michigan on the map as one of the founding sites of a new movement within the church called Mutual Ministry. Members of many Protestant churches in the U.S and internationally travelled to the UP to learn about changes that, as Tom describes, “pushed back against the hierarchical infantilizing of adult Christians who are considered second class citizens if they were not ordained.”
Brenda Ackerman was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois and went on to get a degree in sociology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She later earned her teaching degree and taught in the Evanston, Illinois public school district. At U of M she met fellow graduate Tom Ray who had grown up in the small conservative town of Manistee, Michigan. After he graduated from General Seminary in Manhattan, they were married in Grand Rapids in 1959 and took their honeymoon in the Upper Peninsula, thus beginning what would be their 60 year love affair intertwined with a 60 year love of the UP Soon they had four children and were living in Marion, Indiana where Tom was minister of Gethsemane Episcopal Church for ten years. The family began to take a month vacation every summer to camp, fish for trout, and pick blueberries in the UP which tied the four children to the region as well.
Tom and Brenda raised four children. Jennifer Ray, married to Tom Vear, are co-owners of Donckers and the Delft Bistro, and they have raised three children in Marquette, Wesley, Kinsey, and Logan. Christopher Ray and his partner of 17 years Kate Lewandowski, own and operate a Thai massage and healing arts practice in Marquette that takes them travelling around the world for teaching engagements. Tim Ray is a real estate developer in Portland, Oregon where he has children Samuel, Jacob, and Jesse, and two with his partner Chali Hamda, Jalene and Yusef. Geoff Ramsey-Ray, with his wife Kikanza Ramsey-Ray, own and operate a Waldorf early childhood school in Altadena, California where they have raised three children, Malcolm, Simone, and Aquila. Brenda is survived by three siblings, Lynn Jespersen of Boulder, Colorado, Michele Hoyt of Missoula, Montana, and Eric Ackerman of Longmont, Colorado.
A Celebration of Life will be held for Brenda and Tom Ray from 11AM to 2 PM on Saturday, February 24 at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church on Ridge St. in Marquette, followed by a 2 PM memorial service at the church. The service will be presided by Northern Michigan Episcopal Bishop Rayford Ray (no relation), and the Reverend Lydia Kelsey Bucklin. All are welcome.
Flowers may be sent directly to Saint Paul’s, though for those so moved we encourage donations in lieu of flowers to be sent to BlackLivesMatter.com and UP Home Health & Hospice whose folks brought remarkable sensitivity and care to Tom and Brenda during their final months.
The Canale-Tonella Funeral Home is assisting the Ray family where memories may be shared at canalefuneral.com
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