Raymond Vernon Cooper made his grand entrance on January 8, 1930 in Billings, MT. He was born to Fon Vernon Cooper and Freida Marie Agnes Cooper. Ray had 2 brothers, Edwin George, who died at 17 days old and Hershel Fon, who died of spinal meningitis at the age of 12.
Ray attended Wilsey Grade School in Joliet, a one-room schoolhouse with about 15-20 kids. He then attended Edgar High School, which he said was a “big thrill” going from a tiny country school to 90 students, and riding the bus was considered “big time stuff”.
According to Ray, the highlight of his education came when his uncle John gave him a 1924 Chevy Coupe. It had a canvas top and an adjustable windshield. First thing Ray did was take off the muffler and race it to see how fast it would go. It went a whopping 35mph – downhill. He said parting with his Chevy when his father sold the farm was a “sad day”.
After graduation, Ray attended Rocky Mountain College for one quarter. He quickly decided it was all “B.S.” because he just wanted to raise wheat. In Ray’s own words, he was “really good at irrigating and spreading shit”. No surprise Ray would spend a good portion of his life farming.
Ray married Aliene Cellmer in 1951 in Laurel, MT. They had 4 children - Daryl, Lynn, Randy and Sheri. Ray and Aliene moved to a farm south of Ronan, MT in 1961. After they parted ways, Ray said he was a “miserable old bachelor”. He saw an ad in a magazine (the original online dating service) and summoned the courage to write a young lady (Janet Lowe) who lived in Wisconsin. Janet had a daughter – Jackie. In perfect Ray fashion, he arrived in Wisconsin with a grain truck to collect Janet, Jackie, the dog and all of their belongings. They married February 12, 1977 on a bitterly cold Wisconsin day. The rest is history. Eleven months later, Ray and Janet welcomed a son – Shawn - into the fold.
After Ray and Janet sold the farm in Ronan in 1981, they had many adventures. They bought a RV, packed up Shawn and traveled the country for almost a year before deciding to return to Ronan to build their dream home. At one point they owned a Cessna 182 and a logging truck. They were both on their way to getting their pilots license when Ray got lost somewhere over Libby during a solo outing and he swore he would never fly a plane again. He kept his word.
Ray was a Montana boy at heart. He was especially proud of his family Brand – “ED” - which was first registered to his grandfather, E.D. Cooper of Joliet in 1898. It is one of the oldest brands in the state of Montana and remains in the family to this day.
Ray and Janet lived in Vegas for a bit. He took a RV Technician course while they hung out in Florida. If Janet had her way, they would have been on the road forever. They owned the Starlite Motel in Ronan for a decade. Ray had a knack for improving anything he touched. He was handy that way. At one point Ray headed up the Lake County Weed Control office. They owned a RV park in Libby. Janet even talked Ray into helping her manage a Christmas Santa Photo set. Ray played photographer and even had some fun in spite of himself.
Ray and Janet’s last big adventure was transporting RV’s all over the country. This allowed them to visit family while making a buck. Once formally retired, Ray put his master woodworking skills to use. He built numerous pieces of beautiful furniture for the family. He then got the bug for creating art out of horseshoes. At some point, everyone was gifted a horseshoe cowboy, wreath, clock or some other unique piece Ray would fashion. Ray’s number one, all-time favorite hangout, was his shop.
As the years crept up on them, Ray and Janet moved to Brookdale Assisted Living in Missoula. Janet passed in January of 2017. Ray was heart-broken to lose his love of 40 years, but he carried on, always smiling and eager to visit with anyone willing to shout loud enough for him to hear. He hated those “damn” hearing aids. Ray was loved by staff in all of the places he lived. They frequently commented about his happy, smiley nature, as did his family.
Ray’s health took a downward turn in the spring of 2019, but, to everyone’s relief, he rallied. He moved to The Pines Assisted Living in St. Ignatius, yet his heart was always back in Ronan. Ray took a bad fall the end of January and fractured his arm in 2 places. This set him back. His dream of returning to Ronan came true when he moved to Mountain View Nursing home beginning of February. But it all took its toll, and at the age of 91, on March 20, 2021, Ray passed peacefully in his chair. Due to COVID19, the family had not been able to visit in person with him for a year.
Ray dearly loved his family and he was dearly loved. He will be sorely missed.
Ray is survived by his children Daryl (Mary) of Dillon, Lynn (Marilyn) of Polson, Randy (Denise) of Missoula, Sheri (Mike) of Ronan, Shawn of Helena and Jackie of Helena – grandchildren Raylene (Jesse) Rider, Caitlin Cooper, BJ (Emily) Cooper, Leroy (Cassie) Cooper, Danny Lien, Jo-Hanna Lien, Raychel Lien, Yvonne (Elissa) White, Kasey Cooper, Teresa (Guy) Adams, Charlie (Kristina) Cooper, Jessica Gasking, Adam (Evelina) Young, Andrea Stermitz and Michelle Stermitz – numerous great-grandchildren and one great- great-granddaughter.
The family plans a May gathering to celebrate Ray.
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