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Dr. Raymond A. Willem

1936 - 2019
Dr.  Raymond A. Willem Obituary
Dr. Raymond A. Willem

Las Cruces - Dr. Raymond A. Willem; retired professor of mechanical engineering, champion of charitable causes, and devoted nature enthusiast; ate a final cupcake and savored a last piece of milk chocolate on April 11, 2019 before his death at Arbors of Del Rey Assisted Living Facility at the age of 82.

Though Dementia had taken his ability to stand, walk, and tell long stories about his service in the Peace Corps, his love of sweets - supplied by his loving wife - endured until the end.

Born in Chicago, IL, in 1936 as the eldest of two children, Ray graduated high school from the Bishop Quarter Junior Military Academy in Oak Park, IL, in 1954. He went on to earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in mechanics from the University of Illinois, Urbana, finally graduating in 1969.

Ray married his wife, Adelina, in June of 1970, and had two daughters: Ana Maria in 1972 and Maria Isabel (Bel) in 1973. He is survived by his wife and his daughters his sister Janet Svatos, as well as his grandsons, Benjamin and Isaac, and his son-in-law, Steve Mills. Ray and Adelina would have celebrated 49 years of marriage in June.

Ray taught at New Mexico State University for 22 years, his teaching career, which began during his graduate studies, would span 35 years and 4 countries. Beginning in 1962, he taught physics, mathematics and mechanics as a Peace Corps volunteer at the Qua Iboe Mission Secondary School in Etinan, Nigeria. After receiving his Ph.D., he taught at the University of the Americas in Cholula, Mexico, for three years; then at the University of Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya, for two. He concluded his career at NMSU and retired in 1998.

Some of Ray's proudest achievements include his design work on artificial hearts for IBM in 1965 and his development of micro-lens grinders for endoscopic surgery at Karl Storz Endovision from 1991-1993. He also conducted research for the U.S. Naval Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and for NASA at the White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, NM.

While at NMSU, Ray spearheaded a drive to have undergraduate engineering students introduced to design in their first year of classes, rather than waiting until senior year, as was the case when he started at NMSU. His efforts lead to the creation of ME 166, an introduction to design class he himself taught. His commitment inspired devotion among many of his students, some of whom corresponded or visited with him throughout their adult lives. In recognition of his impact, NMSU named a design lab in his honor upon his retirement.

Though he authored many scholarly articles during his career, it's likely Ray's greatest writing effort remained his least celebrated. His unpublished manuscript, "Design, The Creative Act," demonstrated a common design process behind a wide range of creative works including the cuneiform writing of ancient Sumer, the St. Louis Arch, and the McDonald's restaurant, among other examples. Sadly, the onset of Ray's cognitive decline coincided with the final revisions of the manuscript and it never found a publisher.

Outside of work, Ray was a devoted champion of various causes; including preserving the natural environment, preventing global warming, ending nuclear proliferation, and helping needy children in developing countries. He also pored over books about Catholic saints and mystics and contributed generously to charities. His devotion to charitable causes, in fact, became so pronounced as his Dementia progressed that his wife had to take away his checkbook to guarantee there would be money left to pay for his care.

Among those closest to him, Ray will be remembered for doing housework with his Walkman tuned to NPR, forever forgetting his sunglasses, and never failing to comment on the beauty of the Organ Mountains. His daughters won't soon forget his relentlessly friendly manner and how his penchant for chit chat always prolonged quick outings if they ran into somebody he knew. And finally, his wife will always remember how, on the last day of his life, before eating what would be his final cupcake, he paused, broke off a piece, and offered her the first bite.

The Willem family would like to express their deepest gratitude to the staff at the Arbors of Del Rey Assisted Living Facility, as well as to their family and friends for being supportive throughout Raymond's care. A memorial service will be held at the St. Albert's Newman Parish at 1:30 pm on May 3, 2019.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks to please make a donation to the .

Arrangements with Getz Funeral Home, 1410 E. Bowman Ave. Las Cruces, NM 88001. Please visit to sign the local online guest book.
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News on Apr. 28, 2019
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