February 11, 1924 - November 21, 2019
Ray A. Johnson, 95, passed away peacefully on November 21, 2019. Ray was born on February 11, 1924 to William C. and Carrie W. Johnson on a farm near Dannebrog, Nebraska. Ray was 5 years old when his father died, so his mother moved Ray and his two siblings to Grand Island, Nebraska, where he grew up attending school and participating in many sports activities. Ray met the love of his life, Jean M. Hughes, in Grand Island. They ultimately eloped and were married in Las Vegas, Nevada when he was 18 years old.
Ray excelled in sports, most notably in the game of baseball. He was drafted while still in high school by the St. Louis Cardinals, beginning his career in August before his senior year of high school with their farm team in Washington, Pennsylvania. He later played in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and in Springfield, Missouri, all in the Cardinals' farm system. Ray also played for the Sherman Field Flyers, winning the 1944 National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
His baseball career was interrupted to serve in the U.S. Army during WWII. Ray saw combat in the European theater, participating in the waning days of the Battle of the Bulge and earning the Combat Infantryman Badge. After VE Day he was involved in the post-WWII occupation of Japan and the corresponding early reconstruction of that country.
After his honorable discharge from the Army, Ray enjoyed an extended career playing semi-pro baseball during the sport's Golden Age. He played for several teams in the Nebraska Independent League. Ray's distinguished career included brushes with a number of major league players, including Satchel Paige, Stan Musial, Dizzy Dean and Billy Martin. He was inducted into the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
Besides playing baseball, Ray enjoyed a wide-ranging business career, working at the Grand Island Independent, district sales manager for Storz's Brewery and Grain Belt Beer, owner of RJ's Bar and Grille, and providing custodial services at Northwest High School. During his leisure time, Ray played golf, winning numerous local and regional tournaments.
Ray and Jean enjoyed 66 years of married life before Jean's death in 2009. Family includes children Tina (Joseph) Standeven of Farwell, Nebraska; Steve (Mimi) Johnson of Fairhope, Alabama; Matt (Donna) Johnson of Grand Island, Nebraska; and Tammy (Paul) Peter of Lincoln, Nebraska. At the time of his death, Ray enjoyed the presence of 23 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and 7 great-great-grandchildren. Preceded in death by beloved wife, Jean (1920-2009); parents William and Carrie Johnson; brothers Wayne Jorgenson and Howard Johnson.
Rite of Christian Burial to be held Saturday, December 14, 10 am at Apfel Funeral Home, 1123 West Second Street, Grand Island, Nebraska, Fr. Sid Bruggeman presiding. Interment following service at Westlawn Memorial Cemetery, Grand Island, Nebraska, with military honors. Memorials to Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame or The Gary Sinise Foundation for Military Veterans.