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An Extraordinary Life: Channahon man led with a servant's heart

Channahon man led with a servant’s heart

Raymond Vander Zanden was involved in many ministries and helped anyone he could.
Raymond Vander Zanden was involved in many ministries and helped anyone he could.

CHANNAHON – “I probably saw him in the parish office three times a week.”

So said Jill Walsh, office manager and pastor assistant at St. Ann Catholic Church in Channahon, about Raymond Vander Zanden. An active member of the parish as well as St. Ann Knights of Columbus Council 12863 in Channahon, Raymond was involved in many ministries.

Jill said Raymond had a strong knowledge of agriculture, which he used to maintain the parish grounds. Raymond also was involved in pro-life activities, helped organize a marriage renewal Mass every year for couples (especially those celebrating years ending in five or zero) and assembled a kiosk of spiritual materials in the narthex, she said.

When St. Ann recently need to replace a lawn mower, Jill said Raymond researched the best machine to order.

“We got it a few days after he passed,” Jill said. “He was very ‘hands-on, take care of it yourself.’ He got involved; he took care of things; he got people organized. He had meetings and got things done.”

Grand Knight Dan Lupton of Minooka said Ray was a member of the Knights of Columbus for 44 years and “pretty much did every job,” with his last position being recorder for the meetings.

Ray also was the publicity chairman for the July blood drive the St. Ann Knights co-hosted with the  St. Mary’s Knights of Columbus Council 12882, Our Lady of Knock in Minooka. He also was heavily involved in the Knights of Columbus wheelchair drive.

The last one raised $6,400, which would buy about 40 wheelchairs for people who needed them, Dan said. For the Knights’ fish fries, Ray oversaw the dining room and the teen volunteers. He helped with the ladies brunch down to taking care of the tablecloths.

Ray did grass cutting, weed control, snow removal, spring cleanups, fall cleanups and overall “kept the church looking pretty good,” Dan said.

“He will be very much missed. We can’t replace him,” Dan said. “We’re going to have to do the best we can without him.”

Becky Blaisdell of Oswego, one of Ray’s four daughters, said her father always “kept busy,” a habit he developed growing as the middle child in a family of 14 children working on the family farm in Wisconsin.

Ray eventually earned earned a Bachelor of Science in agricultural education from the University of Wisconsin in Platteville. For 30 years, Ray was a general manager for GROWMARK Inc. at various locations across the Midwest.

After he retired, Ray worked as a real estate agent and then worked 10 years at the Will County Credit Union. Recently, Ray became interested in genealogy and assembled a book of family history and stories from his own childhood, Becky said.

“He always tried to teach us to be independent, to do things on our own and not to be afraid of making mistakes because you learn from your mistakes,” Becky said.

He gardened, planted trees and took the family camping. One goal was to visit all the national parks out west, which they did one summer, Becky said. He taught his daughters how to fish.

“We put the worm on the hook and took the fish off the hook,” Becky said.

Ray’s wife, Joyce, liked going on fishing trips with Ray to Wisconsin and staying in a cabin. He fished for bass and walleye and then prepared them for dinner.

“He was a very good cook,” Joyce said. “He loved making meals.

Ray also liked reading, woodworking and watching sports, especially the Green Bay Packers.

Joyce said she met Ray in high school when they lived in Wisconsin. He was on the football team and asked her to sophomore prom. They’ve been together ever since. Joyce said they were married 53 years.

“He was very good to me.”

Joyce feels people will remember Ray’s kindness and friendliness.

“He was always willing to help anyone who needed help,” Joyce said. “He was always there for you.”

Ray died suddenly June 9. He was 74.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or