Raymond Ernest “Ray” Ecklund, 88, of Crookston, MN, passed away at his home early Wednesday afternoon, February 1, 2023, with his loving family at his side.
Ray was born in Minneapolis, MN on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1934, to Ernest and Elaine (Strong) Ecklund. While growing up in Minneapolis he was baptized and confirmed at the University Lutheran Church of Hope and began his education in the Tuttle Elementary School. Sadly, Ray’s mother passed away when he was 9 years old. He and his sister, Carol, were blessed to be raised by their father, Ernest, and beloved aunt, Elsie Sorsoleil. Later, while attending John Marshall High School, Ray was a gifted athlete for the “Cardinals” in their football, basketball, hockey, wrestling, and baseball programs, before graduating as a member of the Class of 1952. He went on to attend the University of Minnesota Main Campus, majoring in Park and Recreation. While a student at the University he was employed at Totino’s Italian Restaurant, near the Campus, and is where he developed a lifelong love for cooking and of course a flair for all things Italian. After earning his bachelor’s degree Ray began working for the Park and Recreation Department in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb. He rapidly became a favorite of all the kids who took part in the programs and someone they quickly learned to respect and trust.
On September 19, 1959, Ray was united in marriage to the love of his life, Patricia Antoinette “Pam” Marcotte. The ceremony took place in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis and the newlyweds settled into their first home, located directly across the street from his father’s house where he grew up. Pam and Ray’s marriage would soon be blessed by the births of their 3 children: Mark, Dawn, and Michael. In 1968 Ray, Pam, and the kids headed for Crookston where he had accepted a position as Director of Park and Rec. After a few years his duties jointly expanded as he was also named City Administrator. Fortunately, Ray was later able to devote himself entirely to the demanding role of City Administrator. He ran a respectful office occupied by appreciative, happy people who greatly enjoyed working with each other. Throughout his life Ray had a love for nature and wolves in particular. This is important to know because when he retired in 2005 his staff coupled that knowledge with their great affection for him by presenting him with a special ‘one of a kind’ plaque they titled “Leader of the Pack”.
In semi-retirement Ray began cooking at the Irishman’s Shanty where he was known for a chicken oriental salad simply known as Ray’s Salad. After all these years it is still on the Restaurant’s menu. Ray’s son and daughter-in-law, Michael “Bugsy” and Gayle Ecklund, owned and operated “Bugsy’s on Bostic”, a Resort near Baudette, MN. At least once a month Ray went up there to cook fabulous Italian recipes for the Resort’s guests and where many new and lasting friendships were forged. Meanwhile back in Crookston Ray looked forward to cooking for family and friends, and he and Pam loved to entertain, welcoming guests to their home for good times and great food. Ray enjoyed golfing and fishing with his many friends and was an avid fan of all Minnesota Gopher sports. He was a very talented painter and their home was a gallery of many of his wonderful pieces of art. He was also known for the fantastic drawings of pet dogs he made for their owners around the neighborhood and beyond.
Papa Ray was one of a kind with a heart of gold. He truly admired all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren when it came to family gatherings. Ray was always instilling his love of art and sharing stories with them all. Papa would do anything for anyone and always kept his same beautiful smile. Memories of him will never be forgotten and his heart will be with us forever.
Ray is survived by Pam, his beloved wife and best friend for over 63 years; their 2 living children, Mark Ecklund and Dawn and Tom Skjei, all of Crookston, MN; daughter-in-law, Gayle Ecklund of Baudette, MN; 5 grandchildren: Austin Skjei of East Grand Forks, MN, Hilary (Brady) Palmer of Sharon, ND, Amanda (Nolan) Larson of Eagan, MN, Samantha Ecklund (fiancé, C.J. Davis) of Baudette, and Wyatt Ecklund (fiancée, Ashley Pelland) of Duluth, MN; 7 great-grandchildren: Owen, Harrison, and Quinn Palmer, Koltlynn, Charlize, and Hadley Davis, and Bauer Ecklund. He also leaves his sister, Carol Malone of Mankato, MN; several nieces, nephews; many friends; and from Pam’s family a brother-in-law, Richard Smithberger and his second wife, Pat, of New Brighton, MN. Ray was preceded in death by his son and best buddy, “Bugsy”, who died on May 5, 2019, after a lengthy illness; his parents, Ernest and Elaine Ecklund; a very special aunt, Elsie Sorsoleil; and from Pam’s family his parents-in-law, Leo and Dorothy Marcotte; and sister-in-law, Marjorie “Midge” Smithberger. May God richly bless the memory of Raymond Ernest Ecklund.
A Mass of Christian Burial honoring the life of Ray Ecklund will be held at 2:00 p.m., Thursday, February 9, 2023, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston with The Rev. Msgr. David Baumgartner, presiding. Visitation with the family will be for one hour prior to the service.