For many years, the witticisms of R. F. Stoiber appeared among other Letters to the Editor on The Herald-News’ opinions pages.
Their author, Raymond “Ray” Stoiber, started penning them in 1974, said his sister, Sister Lois Ann Stoiber of Northlake. She has no idea why he started or what sparked this love for writing.
Sister Ann remembers Ray “sent a lot of writing home” when he served in the Korean War. But up to that point, Ray’s passion was sketching, not writing.
“I remember as a kid he’d be sitting with a pencil making cartoon strips,” Sister Ann said. “He used to do a lot of doodling.”
The two of them grew up on Julia Avenue, about a block from Washington Street. They were close as children (Sister Ann is a year older than Ray), but drifted apart during adolescence.
“He had his friends, and I had my friends,” said Sister Ann, who entered the convent in 1981. “I consider it a gift from God that we got to know each other as adults because we became very close. He was always very giving.”
Sister Ann recalled how she always had a “Christmas wish list” for parents, which was very different from Ray.
“He never had a list,” Sister Ann said. “He didn’t ask. He didn’t want. He got along with a little and was content with a little.”
One year, when they were about 11 and 12, Ray received a bicycle for Christmas and Sister Ann did not. And Ray told her, “You can ride it any time you want.” And he meant it.
“As time went on, I saw how easily approachable he was,” Sister Ann said. “And accepting of everyone.”
Although Ray attended proms at the former Catholic High School and occasionally dated, he never married or had children, she said. He never moved out of the family home until he moved to Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home in Joliet.
“My mother died in 1968,” Sister Ann said. “And then he and my dad lived together. They became very close.”
Ray, a veteran, never spoke of his war experiences, but he flew an American flag outside his home and had flags tucked behind pictures inside his home.
“Before he died, the VFW from New Lenox came and presented him a certificate and a medal. He was very pleased,” Sister Ann said. “It was one of his last days, but he was alert enough to know it was happening.”
Ray worked at the steel mill in Joliet until it closed. Then he worked at St. Patrick Residence, first in Joliet and then later, when it moved to Naperville.
But then, Ray enjoyed the company of seniors, Sister Ann said. For 50 years, Ray visited residents at Sunny Hill Nursing Home in Joliet.
“It started by visiting a neighbor across the street,” Sister Ann said. “When Donald died, [Ray] just kept going.”
Ray loved gardening, gradually replacing his father’s vegetable beds with flowers, which he loved, especially roses, tulips and poppies, Sister Ann said. She recalled how one company sent Ray new varieties of roses in exchange for information on how they fared.
Sometimes he named these new varieties, too, she added.
He involved the neighborhood children in their care and ran little contests.
“The backyard was full of watering cans, and each child picked a rosebush,” Sister Ann said. “Whichever rose had the first bloom received a blue ribbon.”
Sister Ann recalled one little girl, Kelly, who was hit by a train before the roses bloomed. After her death, her rosebush bloomed first.
“So he filled his car with the [other kids] and took the kids to the gravesite and put the rose on Kelly’s grave,” Sister Ann said.
Ray set rules, too, such as not coming into the yard unless he was outside. One girl couldn’t resist the temptation, so Ray banned her from the yard for a short period of time.
When she was allowed back, he and the other children celebrated her return with ice cream.
“He wanted her to feel welcomed back,” Sister Ann said.
Many of those children saw their first Cubs game at Wrigley Field because Ray took them. When a certain neighborhood woman was expecting her fourth child, Ray gave her a day off by inviting the other three kids to a game and dinner at White Castle.
Yet, Ray never wanted to draw attention to himself, Sister Ann said.
“He never did things unless he saw a need or unless a person asked him,” Sister Ann said. “And then he tried to accommodate.”
Ray was always funny, even as a child at the former St. Mary Carmelite Catholic School in Joliet, when he was always asked to tell jokes for school performances. But Ray’s humor was never mean or directed at another person.
In fact, Ray had no tolerance for ridicule.
“I never heard Ray say an uncharitable word about another all his life,” Sister Ann said. “If he could not change the subject, he would walk away.”
She recalled a time when some friends were planning on living together and needed furniture. One friend intended to shun anything secondhand and especially wanted a new coffee table.
While everyone made fun of it, Ray only said, “Well, you can put a lot on a coffee table.”
Ray didn’t read many books, but he did enjoy newspapers, Sister Ann said. Not surprisingly, Ray’s most prized possession was an electric Royal typewriter, a Christmas gift from his father, who died in 1990.
Even when the typewriter stopped working, Ray kept it on his desk at OLA, Sister Ann said. In fact, one day she asked Ray if he wanted it moved to a storeroom, but he said, “Just leave it.”
Sister Ann said moving to OLA was good for Ray. He made many friends and she had the blessing of spending his last five days with him. Ray died Nov. 14. He was 90.
She perused through some of Ray’s writings, pausing to read her favorites aloud.
“ ‘Old Christmas trees never die. They just pine away for another year.’ I like that one,” Sister Ann said. “And here’s one when the George Bush presidential library was formed: ‘Read my lips. Read my papers.’ ”
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.