By Brent Atkinson
Raymond Frank Ahles was called home the morning of Saturday, July 10, 2021, at Gritman Memorial Hospital in Moscow.
It had been a trying few months for my grandfather, and the ornery old man did not go quietly. He fought for his life and dignity with the same fervor in which he fixed countless tractors, trucks and cars for friends, family and, occasionally, for his own satisfaction. This fight to hang around was not self-serving, he just wanted to be there for Grandma to help with her sewing business. My grandmother, Fern Ann, was undoubtedly his greatest love, concern and purpose in life.
Ray was born Nov. 18, 1939 in Bottineau, N.D. A fond childhood memory of his was watching ice dams float down the Red River at the Minnesota state line. At 11, he moved to Palouse with his father, and a few years after that to Coeur d’Alene. Coeur d’Alene was a particularly special place for Ray, because it was there, in 1963, that he courted the love of his life, Fern Ann Haughton. The two wasted no time in tying the knot, marrying Jan. 11, 1964, and wasted even less time in beginning their new life together, moving south to the town of Moscow the very next day. The two would quickly fall in love with the town they’ve called home ever since. They’ve never been shy about their love for Moscow, and each day they not only fell more in love with where they lived, but they also fell more in love with each other.
While Fern Ann was without a doubt Ray’s greatest love, his children, Vickie and Raymond Jr., were his greatest pride and joy. Ray also adored being a grandfather and picking on us kids.
Vickie and Raymond Jr. would both agree that one of their favorite things about their dad was his ability to encapsulate most any situation with the perfect euphemism or analogy. He had a lot of them, a go-to being “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” This is emblematic of all the different ways he could place a perfect cap on a conversation. Also, I should mention, Ray had a serious soft spot for cats; they were undoubtedly his favorite animal. An elusive list exists somewhere of Ray’s off-the-wall and hilarious sayings, but unfortunately most of them would not be appropriate for this medium. Some of them could make a sailor blush. But there are countless studies that suggest the most honest people are those with the most, we’ll say, “colorful” language, and Ray’s language was as colorful as anyone’s.
Ray certainly loved being a husband, father and grandfather more than anything, but anyone who knew him also knows that he was awfully fond of driving, fixing and tinkering with trucks, tractors and cars. That included everything from special projects, friends’ vehicles and equipment, model trucks, cars, and tractors (he left behind quite an impressive collection of those), as well as the semitrucks he drove in his 42 years behind the wheel.
Over the years, Ray worked many jobs, including serving eight proud years in the United States Navy as a diesel mechanic. He also worked as a farm hand, an auto mechanic, and even for a vet clinic, but most of his career was spent driving truck, hauling wheat, peas, lentils, wood chips and more. Ray had a work ethic that would rank with the very best, and he worked his entire life. Even at the ripe old age of 80, he could still be found most every day working on a project in the shop or helping Fern Ann with her flourishing sewing business.
While Ray did prefer spending his time working and being productive, occasionally he’d let his proverbial hair down. I say proverbial because Grandpa lost most of his once-thick red hair in his early 20s, a hereditary gift of baldness he bestowed upon me as well. Some of his favorite activities were traveling, camping, trap shooting, four-wheeling and, maybe most of all, attending auctions. He was a fixture at auctions in the Inland Northwest and beyond, and took great pride in bringing life to tractors and equipment that had long been written off as scrap. Ray once drove clear to Minnesota to retrieve a rare, vintage John Deere stuck in the middle of a field. Ray rebuilt and eventually sold it to a collector in Spokane. That John Deere can still be found traveling the country at vintage tractor shows today.
One of Ray’s greatest joys in life, though, was to help others. It’s safe to say the town of Moscow, and the people within it, are much better off for having had Ray around these past 50-plus years.
Ray was preceded in death by his father, Raymond Christoffer Ahles, mother Elsie Nordstrom, and sister Mary Ellen Ahles. He is survived by his wife, Fern Ann, daughter Vickie Ann Atkinson (husband Dave), son Raymond Thomas Ahles (wife Jan), three half-brothers, as well as four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren, and a long list of loving family members and friends.
Memorial services will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 31, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Moscow. Ray’s request was to be cremated, or, in his words, “toss me on the griddle, let it sizzle and scrape off the ashes.” The family has honored these wishes with love and compassion, so there will be no viewing or graveside service.
Another one of Ray’s favorite sayings was “waste not, want not,” and he would not be happy with any of us if we accepted personal donations when there are those in greater need. The family is asking that instead, any personal gifts or donations be directed to the St. Mary’s Church Food Bank in Ray’s honor.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Short’s Funeral Chapel, Moscow, and online condolences may be sent to shortsfuneralchapel.com.