GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Raymond K. Kenaga, 80, of Belmont, Mich., formerly of Ada, Mich., passed away peacefully Monday, April 8, 2013, at Pilgrim Manor Health Center in Grand Rapids.
Ray grew up in Sterling, where he graduated from Sterling High School in 1950, as a standout all-sports athlete, and was known statewide as “Red” Kenaga. In 1949, he won national recognition in football when selected among thousands of players throughout the country, to play on an All-America prep grid squad by the Wigwam Wisemen of America, an institution based at Oklahoma City. Kenaga was called “one of the most brilliant strategists in present Illinois high school football.” He was a member of the school’s 1949-50 all-state “Sweet Sixteen” basketball team, and his 1950 batting average in baseball was .677. In 1984, Ray was elected a charter member of the Sterling High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Ray continued athletic excellence at the University of Illinois and at the University of Michigan, where he was a quarterback on Michigan’s 1953 football team. He also participated and excelled in basketball, baseball, and track and field. Ray was a member of Delta Sigma Nu Fraternity.
While earning a Bachelor of Science degree in education at Michigan, Ray was commissioned a second lieutenant by the University’s Army ROTC detachment, and later earned his Jump Wings. As a first lieutenant in the 85th Infantry Regiment stationed in Germany, he coached a winning football team known as the “Bamberg Rams.”
Returning from Germany in 1957, Ray met and married Louise Willetts. He began his longtime association with American Seating Co. as a sales representative in the New York City area. Returning to the company’s headquarters in Grand Rapids in 1978 as a field sales manager, Ray secured dozens of large seating contracts for the company over the years, including Soldier Field in Chicago; Minneapolis Metrodome; Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati; Progressive Field in Cleveland; the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis; Camden Yards in Baltimore; Comerica Park in Detroit; and many more. He retired after 45 years as director of major accounts. He joined the Irwin Seating Co. team in Grand Rapids as a consultant, successfully continuing his love of working in the world of professional sports seating. In 2007, Ray was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Stadium Managers Association.
Football continued to be a passion throughout Raymond’s life, loyally following the Michigan Wolverines games both home and away. He enjoyed many years of business and personal friendships, entertaining and world traveling with Louise, their many Labrador retriever companions, tennis, and just being at home.
He is survived by his loving wife of 54 years, Louise; and by an older brother, Jay W. of Hilton Head, S.C. He was “Uncle Ray” to Jennifer and Matthew Brunck of Monrovia, Md., Heidi Kenaga and Predeep Sopory of Farmington Hills, Mich., Peter Kenaga of Culpepper, Va., and Douglas and Anne Klein of Hastings, Mich.; “Papa Bear” to David and Ginny O’Neal of Cocoa, Fla; and his best friend, Giles L. Courtney of Grand Rapids, Mich., who was like a brother to Raymond.
Visitation will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday and a memorial celebration of Raymond’s life at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Home, 4291 Cascade Road S.E., Grand Rapids.
Memorial contributions may be directed to the Alzheimer’s Association; or to the Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49534.