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Ray and Edie Raffesberger

Raffesberger, Ray and Edie SAN MARCOS -- Raymond "Ray" and Ethel "Edie" Raffesberger both passed away in the past several days, within four days of each other, after a sixty-five year marriage and even longer romance. Ray was within days of his 86th birthday, and Edie was 86. As exemplary members of the "greatest generation," their lives were witness to, or participants in many of the seminal moments of the last century. Edie was the last of ten children, nine of whom survived to adulthood, born to Hermann and Alma Zemke. She was born in the farmhouse her father had built by hand and on on the farm he carved out of the northern Wisconsin wilderness as an emigrant from Pomerania, Germany. Sadly, he died months before her birth in a logging accident on the farm. She was raised by her mother and siblings in a farmhouse lacking electricity and indoor plumbing, but bursting with love and fierce devotion to one another. Edie graduated from Clayton High School, where she was a cheerleader, trombone player in the band, and all-around fireball. Edie's flamboyant red hair, and even more flamboyant personality were never forgotten by anyone who met her. Certainly not by Ray, who attended a nearby rival high school, Turtle Lake. Ray was born on his family's farm near the village of Almena, the fourth of five children to Severn and Veda Raffesberger. While life was scrabble-hard during the Great Depression on both of their farms, Ray liked to brag that his farm had electricity long before Edie's. World War II was still raging when Ray dropped out of high school at age 17 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served the last year of the war and beyond on the destroyer U.S.S. Glennon, cruising the North Atlantic. Discharged in 1946, he returned home to Wisconsin and re-kindled his romance with Edie, and they married in 1947. Ray began school in Chicago at Chicago Technical College. During his student years, Ray worked nights at the Chicago docks, Edie worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, he was a member of the Kappa Sigma Kappa fraternity, and they both loved frequenting the Chicago jazz clubs. Somewhere, they found time to have their first son, Glenn, named after his WWII ship. With a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in hand, they returned to the upper Midwest. Ray worked for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, and then tried returning to their ancestral roots, farming. Their little dairy farm failed, but it did produce another son, Wayne, and a decision to pursue another engineering position in New Mexico. Ray originally worked for a manufacturing company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but soon accepted a position in Los Alamos working on nuclear bombs. In those days, Los Alamos was still a gated, secretive community which had produced the original nuclear bomb. Ray worked on the Bikini Atoll project with many of the same engineers who worked on those first bombs. Edie raised the kids, now three with the addition of Michael, shopping for fresh produce and tamales with the other community wives in little neighboring villages like Espanola. A new engineering challenge beckoned, and they moved the family in 1954 to San Diego, where Ray began work as an aerospace engineer with Convair/General Dynamics. He eventually rose to become Chief Engineer on the Centaur project, a crucial second stage to the Atlas missile. The Centaur boosted the Surveyor satellite into a soft landing on the moon, an essential precursor to later manned landings. While working on the space program, he became friends with all seven of the original Mercury astronauts, and enjoyed taking them to the famous Mickey Finn's saloon when they were in town. Ray moved on to become Vice President at Straza Industries in El Cajon, California, and then again moved after two years to Rohr Industries in Chula Vista, California. At Rohr, he rose to become Vice President of the Rail Transit Division, and was responsible for manufacturing and installing the BART transit cars in San Francisco and the WMATA cars in Washington, D.C. During these years, they lived in La Mesa, California, and participated in all the usual activities for their boys: Cub Scouts, PTA, Little League and all the rest. Edie became a successful residential real estate agent, and later a licensed broker. In 1977, Ray purchased from Rohr its Rail Systems division, and began a new career of serial entrepreneur. Rail Systems was sold two years later; Road Systems, a manufacturer of semi-truck trailers was formed, then sold; Coast Intelligen was formed and also sold. Coast was a manufacturer of the finest small packaged cogeneration systems in the country. Along the way, he became a licensed general contractor and built two spectacular homes in Del Mar, California; patented a fuel valve which greatly reduces industrial engine emissions; consulted with several small San Diego manufacturers, and learned to fly his own twin-engine plane. Rarely resting, he hunted elk, moose, deer and bear, and caught marlin at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Through it all, Edie was his partner, her effervescent personality always bubbling. The arc of their remarkable lives spanned much of the 20th Century and beyond. Always constant was their love for each other, their family, and their country. They are survived by son Glenn (wife, Madelyn), son Wayne (wife, Kaye) and grandson Ray, Jr. They were predeceased by their son, Michael. They will be interred together in a private service at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in their honor to the Wounded Warrior Project, 2468 Historic Decatur Rd., Ste. 150, San Diego, CA 92106.


Published in U-T San Diego on Mar. 10, 2013
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