Raymond “Ray” G. Erickson, 78, of La Crosse, died Monday, June 15, 2020, at Bethany Riverside Transitional Care in La Crosse.
Ray was born September 11, 1941, in La Crosse, to Lucky and Mickey (Bott) Erickson. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 1960, then went into the U.S.A.F. and served until 1964. He married Marge (Tootie) Jeffery in June of 1964. They later divorced.
He later married Barbara Loing and she died in December 2019.
Ray is survived by two daughters, Kim Adkison and Tammy Erickson; one sister, Elaine Berg; one granddaughter and 3 great-grandsons; one nephew, Mike Berg; two nieces, Julie Berg-Raymond and Margo Kronzer; and many cousins.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, Barbara, one brother Richard (Rick) Erickson and one sister, Nancy McCune.
Ray had a big heart, a great wit and a fierce competitive streak. The big heart made him the kind of person who would do anything for anyone; who made friends everywhere he went; and who left places better for his having been there. The great wit made doing almost anything with him more fun that it would have been without him. The fierce competitive streak was something to behold. It came, he once said, from the fact that his equally competitive mom used to laugh whenever she beat him at cards when he was a kid. When his niece asked her grandma about this, she assured her she wasn’t laughing because she’d won the card game – but instead, because Ray would get so mad when he lost. (This might be one of those chicken-or-egg questions.) In any case, Ray grew up to become a hard person to beat at any game he enjoyed — which included everything from pool to horseshoes to bowling.
Ray loved the Green Bay Packers – a love he shared with his mom, Mickey; his brother, Rick; his nephew, Mike — and almost everyone else in his family. Mike respected his uncle’s deep knowledge of all things football; and Julie remembers trying to talk to Ray once when a game was on and noticing that it was like trying to talk to a wall. That only happened once.
Ray was what mothers sometimes call a “good eater” – he had a healthy appetite, always cleared his plate and never gained a pound — even after family dinners where, Mike recalls, he must have taken in THOUSANDS of calories. At Thanksgiving one year, Mike dared Ray to eat the whole bowl of mashed potatoes – which Ray would certainly (and easily) have done, had his mom not caught on to the dare and told him he’d better not, if he knew what was good for him.
Ray was a mobile DJ long before it became a thing. He made his own booth, set up his own system and called the outfit WSKY Sky-High Radio. Early on, in the 1970s, he used records and then continually adapted the set-up to whatever technological changes came along. His love for music was rooted in the teenage years he shared with his older sisters, Elaine and Nancy, during the golden era of rock-and-roll. His mom and dad, Mickey and Lucky, met at the Avalon Ballroom in the 1930s and were, by all accounts, wonderful dancers; Ray and his sisters took after them in that regard. The three siblings frequently danced together at family gatherings – whether it was a family reunion in a park with his own DJ music playing, or their mom’s living room with a rock-and-roll record playing on her stereo – to the delight and admiration of everyone there.
For years, Ray – by then, known to area music fans as Rockin’ Ray — took WSKY to local nightclubs and played music for the dancing crowds. His nephew Mike and Mike’s then bride-to-be, Kellie, recall dancing to Ray’s music at the Surf Lounge in the early ‘80s. Later, theirs would be another of many weddings for which Rockin’ Ray and WSKY provided the music in those days. The ‘80s also saw Ray realize a dream when he opened his own club, Rockin’ Ray’s, on the north side of La Crosse. The building burned down only a couple of years later — taking Ray’s massive record collection, a lifetime in the making, with it. The loss devastated him — but Ray was a survivor; he picked up and moved on. He found his last, longest-lasting and most memorable gig in the ‘90s when Gary Rudy, for whom he’d been working and who had become a good friend, put Ray on as DJ for classic car and rock-and-roll nights on Tuesdays at Rudy’s Drive-In. After Ray suffered a stroke in early 2016, he could no longer bowl or play pool or horseshoes; and he could no longer dance. But his love for music never waned, and Gary kept him on as Tuesday night DJ at Rudy’s – picking him up at home, or having a friend do so, before each gig and making sure he got home safely at the end of the night. “Ray was a good man,” Gary says of his friend and long-time employee. “Heart as big as the world.”
Ray’s daughter, Tammy, was the light of his life. Sharing with her dad a kind and generous heart, a life-affirming sense of humor and a love for music, she was proud of his accomplishments, shared his joys and comforted him in his times of sorrow. When he needed her, she was there – always.
Ray’s memory will be cherished; and he will be long remembered with love, smiles and gratitude. His family is especially grateful for the memories. Tammy, Mike, Julie and Elaine, along with Kathy and all of the cousins are taking comfort in their suspicion that he and his dad, Lucky, are right now working on some new dance moves.
Rock on, Ray.