I have spent the better part of my adulthood as the writer in my family. This designation, while a privilege, is not without personal anguish. I have had the unique opportunity to tell others stories, write the congratulatory toasts, departing words, and put to paper heartaches that were not mine alone.
If you have followed since the beginning, you may already know that the bucket list was borne of a desire to process loss. Tragically, I have written more eulogies than laudatory salutes since its inception.
A few short months ago we were told that my grandfather was dying. His declining health forced my family to recenter our lives around his care. I pulled back from the bucket list to carve out more time. Time spent sharing memories and sad laughs, talking about his life and the people we had lost that he missed. We also said “I love you” over and over, in case we wouldn’t get the opportunity again.
It is with a heavy heart that I step into my role as descendant reporter once again. My grandfather took his last breath at 1am on Black Friday, just hours after I had been asked to draft an obituary worthy of his legacy.
Raymond “Ray” Frank Novak died peacefully on November 27, 2020, at the age of 81. Ray is survived by his children, Denise Jorgensen (Mark), James Novak (Amy), Barb Atkinson, Frank Novak, and many grand- and great-grandchildren; siblings, Dorothy Frank, Dolores Herzog (Ray), Art Novak; and countless nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his wife, Avis Novak; siblings, Ervin Stock, Al Frank, Pam Novak; step-children, grandchildren, and many others whom he has loved and lost.
Ray was born on January 1, 1939, in Albany, MN to Frank and Martha Novak (Stock). Growing up in Stearns county, he knew of those who were part of Minnesota 13, picking up stories he would later tell his grandchildren. Though school was never his strong suit, he did answer the call when the United States Army so graciously volunteered him for service. In a twist of fate, he was headed home after discharge from Dallas on the day Kennedy was assassinated. He settled back in Albany, and later Rogers and married Judy. The marriage resulted in 4 children. Ray found his career in masonry at Halverson Concrete (and a member of the Masonry Union). With a second chance at love and after an 11-year courtship, Ray married Avis in 1987 who brought 4 more children into his life. They lived in Albany though finally settled in Big Lake, MN where he could live out his lavish Christmas light display obsession. With great pride, he won the local light display contest for 10 straight years, only stopping when he had to be moved to Honorary Mention so that others could have a turn. It was years later before his family would learn that “driving around seeing the Christmas lights,” truly meant “scoping out the competition.”
Ray was accomplished at building dollhouses and toys out of clothespins, inadvertently teaching his children German curse words, and fixing any broken item his children brought to him. A simple man, Ray was also a proud American whose house was littered with American flags and eagle figurines. He was a cordial individual who loved to greet visitors with a displeasing, “what the hell are you doing here?” Ray was passionate about WWE and “Gunsmoke” much to the dismay of his children. He was an avid collector of thermometers, clocks, and extension cords, and was also widely known to have a love of pickled herring, head cheese, popcorn, and watching the 10 pm news with a bowl of ice cream. He had a supreme hatred of olives and throwing away anything, ever.
In his later years and during the end-of-life care of his wife, Avis, Ray volunteered often at the local hospital. It was something he did well and gave his life purpose – aside from Pop-Tarts and Braunschweiger. He will be so very greatly missed.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are unable to have the funeral a legacy such as his deserves though a small gathering will follow at a later date. The family would like to thank the caregivers and hospital staff for their care and dedication in the last years of his life.