Ray’s peaceful journey from a hospice bed to the arms of Jesus took place on May 12, 2020, at 2 a.m., with his wife of 42 years at his side. A graveside service will be held in the future in Shelby.
He was born in Conrad on Aug. 11, 1943, to Harvey and Susie Lux Nelson, the fifth of six children. He was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran faith. Growing up in Shelby, he loved camping, fishing, swimming, hiking and roaming the rivers and streams around Glacier Park, fly pole in hand. Scouting was another favorite, as he worked for and attained Eagle Scout. He graduated from Shelby High and was drafted into the Army. He served two years in Arizona, his first sojourn away from Montana. He described much fun and many adventures in the service, but returned to his beloved hometown thereafter.
He and brother, Jim, owned and operated Harvey’s Thriftway for many years. When Mary Ellen Holland came out west from Washington, DC, as a Vista volunteer in 1976, his life was forever changed. They married in McLean, Va., at St. John’s Catholic Church on Nov. 11, 1977. They settled in Shelby and promptly had two sons, George on Dec. 2, 1978, and Matthew Feb. 8, 1980.
The grocery store was sold and Ray and Mary, boys in tow, explored opportunities in Missoula, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Kennewick, Wash., before buying a home and settling down for 35 years in Kalispell in 1985.
Ray spent 12 years long haul trucking, traveling to every state except Alaska and Hawaii, and much of Canada. He loved being on the road, sightseeing and exploring. As the boys headed off to college, Ray and Mary began to tire of the ice and snow and bought a condo in St. Petersburg, Fla. They began as snowbirds, finally selling out up north and moving south year round.
Retirement was a happy time, despite Ray’s many battles with cancer. He just took it on the chin each time, fought back to health and looked to the future. This future was full of swimming, biking, fishing, and walking the beaches. His two grandsons brought him so much joy as he became a big kid again, teasing and playing.
With shocking suddenness, Ray was hit with a second bout of Acute Myeloid Leukemia after a nearly seven-year remission and died within a month. We are very grateful to Michael Ferguson of Utah, whose bone marrow donation made Ray’s first cure possible. It was a priceless, selfless gift.
He is survived by his wife; son, George (Monica) and grandsons, Dominic and Sebastian, Fairfax Va.; son, Matthew, Kalispell; brother, Jim, Shelby; and so many beloved nieces and nephews and in-laws on both sides of the family. He is also survived by his feline companion, Cece.
Ray was preceded in death by his parents, Mary’s parents, brothers, George and Don, sisters, Delores and Dee, and sisters-in-laws, Evie and Georgia.
We are so grateful to the dedicated, caring staff at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where Ray received his bone marrow transplant, giving him those six bonus years. They were willing to treat him though his estimated chance of a successful cure was only eight percent. He truly beat the odds, like he often did in his bachelor years, playing dice and poker. He died a grateful, happy man.