Ronald Eugene Pray
(Wendy, Penny, Tim. Larry and Kim)
I have the honor today to speak about Ronald Eugene Pray. I want to thank the family for inviting me to share some early memories of my life long friend. He will live on in all of our hearts no matter what I say here, but I hope that these early memories will show you that he lived his entire life as a kind, thoughtful, compassionate man of great character and integrity. He was a great buddy, and he had qualities of character that made this a better world.
We played on elementary playgrounds together, we walked the same graduation stage together, we took the same oath to join the Navy together, and he was best man at my wedding. I have known him and claimed him as a close friend for 70 years.
Ron was the type of friend who was just easy to be around. He was the type of friend you joked and laughed with, but with whom you also shared secrets, pondered the meaning of life, debated the existence of God, but still could argue about mundane things such as which Chevvy was the best looking 1956 or 1957!
The story of The Bright, Shiny, Silver Six Shooter is very insightful!
One morning in 1949 four Montevideo kids decided to ride our bikes down to main street and gawk at the toys we could not afford nor dreamed to expect for Christmas. The best place to gawk was at a place called the "Dime Store". Ron was not with us this morning, but the story involves him.
This had never happened before, but on this day one of the guys managed to steal a cap gun, belt and holster. We learned of the theft only when we got down the street, and we were at once awed by the gun and frightened by the danger of this theft.
Oh, it was a beauty of a cap gun! It was bright, shiny and silver, a six shooter with a pearl handle. It had something special, something none of us had seen previously! It actually fired caps from a disk of caps which fit into the back of the revolving cylinder. All older cap guns had a roll of caps which rolled slid up and out in a long string after the hammer fired.
This was not Xbox, Nintendo or PlayStation4, but in 1949-50 this this the epitome of HIGH TECHNOLOGY!
Later that day I excitedly told Ron what had happened, about the pistol, and the location of the gun. Ron didn't say anything. He sure didn't get as excited about the Shiny Silver Pistol as I did, but he did get that wistful look in his eye, which I was to see several times again over the years, and which I am sure some of you have seen. It was that look he got when something or someone jarred his values.
The next day when our whole group got together the “pistol pilcher” confronted the rest of us, claiming the gun was missing and demanded to know who had stolen it from him. Ron looked him directly in the eye, saying that he had returned it to the Dime Store, because it just wasn't right to steal it, and that the theft endangered his friends.
This wasn’t drugs, but with regard to, "Just Say No"? Ron was way ahead of his time.
I'll bet some of you are thinking, "Every kid should have a friend like that."
Ron displayed a “Champion of the Underdog” trait several other times in our lives, even a couple times after we joined the Navy.
There was a kid in our junior high class who exhibited effeminate traits. He walked a little differently than most guys, and he was always changing the appearance of his hair. His voice was a bit higher and he didn't have much interest in sports.
In those days that was the social kiss of death.
People whispered behind his back and shunned him. This bothered Ron, and he took action. He invited him into our group activities. We all hung out together and realized and he was just fine.
I'll bet you are thinking again, "Every kid should have a friend like that."
Incidentally, this shunned guy is now sadly deceased, but after he left Montevideo he opened a hair styling shop on the west coast which became a chain. He also became a mayor and led parades on a horse. I'm sure his wife and children would be very surprised to learn about the early whispering he faced.
Mid Fifties "Coolness"
In his teens, Ron fit the mid fifties definition of “coolness”. He was slim and his close friends referred to him as "Bones". He was soft spoken, and easy going.
His look included long hair, held in place by concoction called Bryl Cream. Many days he wore a white tee shirt, jeans with no belt and pant legs rolled up. Foot ware was mainly silver buckled engineer's boots.
He never smoked, but a few times he added the "piece de resistance" to his teen uniform by rolling up what looked like a pack of cigarettes in his right sleeve, just for effect.
When the TV show Happy Days came out in 1974, I figured Ron was the person upon which they based the character of the Fonz!
A Parade of Cool Cars and Guys: Dragging Main
The last two years of high school Ron drove a white 1950 Ford which we thought was one of the coolest looking rides in town.
It had fender wells, nice full, chrome hub caps, a great interior topped off with a large, fuzzy black and white pair of dice hanging from the inside mirror.
Cool looking cars cry out to be seen. And in Monte we had an almost nightly parade which was called "dragging main".
That meant that you'd slowly drive up and down the half mile of the only main street in town. You made a lot of passes up and down main in an hour or two. On Friday nights, especially, you just had to "Drag the Main".
Of course you saw and passed the same cars dozens of times. And yet every single time you passed them it was etiquette to give a little finger wave from your steering wheel, never with a lot of enthusiasm, just a cool, laid back, slow finger wave.
The Miracle in Willmar
We did not smoke or drink, and for teens we were fairly law abiding. But we were teens, and teens sometimes just invite trouble to come. This happened to Ron and I one fall night when the “Miracle in Willmar” took place.
He had caring, loving parents and I was active in and loved sports. Despite that, we obtained a six pack of beer and decided to drive somewhere and drink it. I have no idea how or why, we did not even like the taste.
Montevideo was deemed too risky, so we decided Willmar would be our destination of choice. Willmar is a town 30 miles away, and by the time we arrived there, it was mid evening or later.
We cruised Willmar for a while and then stopped in a city park, listening to the radio, and talked quietly as we sipped a beer. At some point we both fell asleep, a partially consumed, single beer bottle in each of our hands, and 4 unopened bottles still in the six pack. The fall moon was shining brightly through the windows.
A sudden tapping on glass startled us awake!
No moon beam was shining through the window, it was a flashlight!
And on the other end of the flashlight was a burly Willmar Policeman who loudly and firmly insisted on driving us to the station to hear our story!
At the station, gloom rested on Ron, and doom rested on me, as we woefully but honestly blurted out our confused sounding story about how we wound up in his park.
The officer gave us a very serious scolding as he made us sweat. I'm sure now that he must have been choking back laughter, as he took the beer away, and sent us home. As we drove back on highway 29 our hearts were in our throats, but we never heard about the incident again.
We called it the "Miracle in Willmar" because we didn't get put in jail, our school wasn’t notified, and our parents weren’t contacted.
But that was life in small town and it was a long, long time ago.
The Sample Switcheroo!
Ron was not usually known to be a high risk taker, but once in a while circumstances dictated drastic action.
Ron, Jim Lundin and I had tried to enlist in the Air Force in the late summer of 57, but there was a long waiting list. But we were eager to leave and we wanted to go through boot camp together. That was important. We were good, supportive friends. So we decided to enlist instead into the Naval Air Force after the local recruiter promised we'd leave in the fall, go through boot camp together, and maybe even some schools after that. We signed on the dotted line.
We reported to Minneapolis on the morning of November 3rd, 1957, a little awestruck by the realization that, " there is no going back now!"
We were there for a preliminary physical and a swearing in ceremony before hopping aboard transportation to the GLNTC near Milwaukee. The physical came first, and you had to pass it to go further.
At some step in the physical we had to pass urine into a sample jar, place an identification card on top of the sample, and then put that on a public table in the hall with all of the other recruit samples for pick up and lab testing.
Jimmy nor I can not now recall what prompted Ron to be nervous, but he had early on started talking about his sample, sure he could fail the test and be sent back home, at least until later. We were all worried and discussed this during other parts of the physical. We wanted to go through Boot Camp together, and did not want to split up. That had been our plan all along!
I went into the men’s room, came out placed my sample and card on the table. Jim and Ron stayed in the bathroom, and took longer than I expected. When they came out I watched them go over to the table and put their samples and cards down on their sample jars. Then, my jaw fell open as they reached over to an unknown and unwitting donor's sample, and calmly switched Ron's identification card with that one.
Ron passed the physical, as we all did, and we went through boot camp together and had a great time. Our company won more achievement flags than had ever been earned in the history of the GLNTC. At graduation we were the "color company", marching at the head of all of the recruits from across the nation.
However, to this day we do not know if there was some poor and thoroughly surprised guy who was sent back home for a failed urine test.
Desperate times dictate desperate actions!
A few stories do not sum up someone’s life. Ron was a complex guy with many unmentioned traits. He was my boyhood buddy who worried and cared about those around him. He was loyal and fun loving, and those traits are universally sound.
Edward Kennedy’s words at his brother Bobby’s funeral sums It up better than I can:
"Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, we pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world…"
Wendy, Penny, Tim, Larry and Kim, to me those words could easily apply to how your Father, your Brother and my Friend lived his life.
In some ways I guess life has been like main street, and I’m sure glad I got to drag it with yah Bones!