On Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, Michele K. Ray was surrounded by love and support as she took her last breaths and found peace after a difficult battle with ALS. She was 66 years young.
Her story began on Saturday, Sept. 5, 1953, when first-time parents Charles and Lois Dunlap raced to the Anamosa hospital to deliver what they assumed to be a big, bouncy baby boy. They were surprised by twin girls with Michele making a grand entrance first followed by Renee a few minutes later. At about two pounds each they were tiny, but they were mighty, courageous and beautiful. As they grew so did the family, and their pesky little brother, Mark Dunlap, was born seven years later.
The family spent most of her youth in Anamosa. Michele was a self-proclaimed tomboy who liked to run free and sometimes make mischief with her playmates on the horse farm or at the upside-down bridge of the Wapsipinicon River. As she grew older the family moved to Waverly, and she became a young lady who traded playing with snapping turtles for cheerleading, synchronized swimming and fashion. She was awe-inspired by her Grandmother Eileen’s handmade garment creations. So after graduating from Waverly-Shell Rock High School, she attended design school in Omaha, Neb., for a brief period.
While she was there, she experienced the greatest of losses and the greatest of loves. After a battle with a brain tumor, the family said goodbye to Renee. A short time later she met, married and had two daughters with her first love, Mark Ray. They were an Air Force family that lived in Nebraska, Arkansas and Illinois until they chose to go separate directions when they divorced. Michele returned to Iowa and to school.
Inspired by the comforting hands of the nurses who supported Renee, Michele became a nurse, supporting patients in Iowa for several years until she was beaconed to The Villages, Florida, by the promise of warmth and sunshine. She lived and worked there for over two decades making an impact in patient lives and making very important personal connections with friends and neighbors who became her family. During that time, she also returned to sewing and developed into an extraordinary quilter and fine artist who brought beauty to this earth with her creativity.
After her ALS diagnosis, she moved to Beaver Dam, Wis., to be close to her daughters. Her disease progressed very quickly, but she was grateful for the time she had. She was moved by the selfless support and love given to her by the care team at Prairie Ridge Assisted Living in Beaver Dam, Wis. She was only a resident there for six weeks, but in that time the care coordinator, caregivers, housekeeper and cook all took her in as if she was their daughter or sister. They sat with her on their own time, and on their weekends off held vigil for her in her final days. She never felt alone because they along with Michele’s family were there, holding her hand, reassuring her and guiding her to peace.
Michele is sadly missed by her parents, Charlie and Lois Dunlap; daughters, Terra Ray (Lane LeBahn) and Janel DeZarn-Vertz (Nick Vertz); grandchildren, Tylor Hudson (Cassandra Hudson), Megan Hudson, Hayden DeZarn, Zander DeZarn, Caleb DeZarn, Sophia Vertz and Naiomi Vertz; great-granddaughter, Coralynn Hudson; brother, Mark Dunlap (Francie Dunlap); nieces, Kelsey Dunlap, Michaela Dunlap and Delaney Dunlap. She is also greatly missed by her special friends in Florida and her service dog, CiCi.
A memorial service will be held at the United Methodist Church in Anamosa on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 5 p.m. with Pastor Melody Williams officiating. Family and friends are invited to gather and pay their respects from 4 p.m. until the time of the service at church. Michele’s memory will be etched alongside Renee’s on a combined tombstone.
Cornerstone Funeral Home of Beaver Dam, Wis., is honored to coordinate these final wishes.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the ALS Wisconsin Chapter, an organization that provided equipment and support that enabled Michele to be mobile and truly live during her last months. While Michele and other ALS soldiers may have lost the battle with the disease, the ALS Association is waging a war to find the cause and cure.
You may send private online condolences or sign the family’s guest book at www.cstonefs.com.