For 60 years, Ray and Sandra Forsman never spent a Christmas apart.
But that changed this year when Ray Forsman passed away from COVID-19 on Dec. 22, 2020 at the age of 81- just three days before Christmas.
Christmas was a special time of year for Ray.
“Whether we had money or not, he made sure everybody got something- even if it was just a pair of socks or a hankie,” Sandra Forsman said.
To Ray Forsman, Christmas wasn’t about the value of the gift.
“It was about the thought,” Sandra said.
Christmas was difficult for Sandra this year, as she spent her first Christmas without Ray since the year they were married in 1960.
But she carried on his spirit.
Everyone got a gift for Christmas, said Sandra, who also spent time in the kitchen making to-go Christmas meals for family members that wanted one. “That’s what Ray would have wanted,” Sandra said.
Ray Forsman was a proud veteran. He served in the United States Coast Guard until being honorably discharged in 1960.
That’s the same year he and Sandra were married.
Sandra recalled how the couple met.
Ray’s father and Sandra’s step-father were working together at Farnham Stationery & School Supply Co. in Minneapolis.
The two men talked about their children and how they should meet.
One day Ray called Sandra on the phone.
“I remember he hemmed and hawed. He didn’t sound very interesting but I agreed to a date to the drive-inn. A couple of his siblings were in the back of the car,” Sandra recalled.
They two dated a couple years before getting married.
Ray, now married, worked for a Twin Cities trucking firm as a dock man and driver.
In 1977 the Forsmans moved to the Monticello area, settling out on County Road 39 near the YMCA property, which today is Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park.
In 1987, the Forsmans bought a 100-plus acres in Silver Creek Township near Hasty and raised five children on the farm: Allene, Doug, Dave, Dan and Dennis.
The farm is also where Ray became an integral part of the thread of a rural farm community.
If there was anyone in Silver Creek who always had an open door, it was Ray Forsman.
Over the years, Ray’s barn became one of those places where you could always borrow a tool if you needed one.
Or get caught up on some good ol’ B.S.
It was normal for Ray to attend auctions and bid on items for friends and neighbors, if for no other reason, he thought they needed the items, Sandra said.
“The barn was kind of like Ray’s own hardware store,” Sandra said.
There was an unspoken rule in Silver Creek Township: If you needed a tool, come on over to Ray’s because the door is always open.
“The problem was, half the time the tools were never returned,” Sandra said.
But that didn’t bother Ray, because he was able to help out a friend or neighbor, she said.
Not only did Ray lend out his tools, he lent out the shop in his barn.
“While he was known as the fixit guy, he let others use his shop for repairs,” said son Doug Forsman.
Ray Forsman also had a soft spot for people in need at times of distress or danger.
It wasn’t unheard of for Ray to bring home to the farm a traveler found stranded on Old Highway 152 in a blizzard.
Over the years, Ray Forsman became well-known in the neighborhood. Some saw him as the most interesting and funny man they had ever met.
Ray left quite an impression on his family, his community, and even to strangers.
“He wasn’t a person who pounded his chest because he did things to help others. He just did it,” Sandra said.
Ray was a man who never cheated anyone.
“He was a man who always gave more than what was needed,” Sandra said.
Said Doug Forsman, “He treated people well by doing the right thing.”
Ray Forman loved the farm.
He wasn’t a crop farmer. He simply tended to his hay.
“He loved to cut hay,” Sandra recalled. “He found cutting hay peaceful. He loved the smell of hay.”
When Ray wasn’t cutting hay, he was tending to another one of his loves.
“He loved talking to the old-timers. He loved hearing their stories,” Sandra said.
“He evened loved listening to those old farmers’ B.S.,” she said.
Ray reminisced about the old Packard automobile with the automatic lift that was once his pride and joy. He also talked of an old Mercedes he once owned- and polished up so fine so it would fetch some extra money when it came time for Ray to sell.
The Forsman family never dreamed the patriarch of their family would fall victim to the coronavirus and COVID-19.
But a bout with lung cancer about 8 years ago and a partial lung removal did make Ray an at-risk person.
On an early December day, Ray Forsman was not feeling well.
Ray was running a fever. He wasn’t eating.
“He wasn’t being himself,” Doug said.
Sandra determined he needed medical attention and called an ambulance.
“He walked to the ambulance on his own in his bathrobe and was well enough to complain to Sandra about the “bumpiest ride of his life” in that ambulance ride to the hospital in Buffalo.
At the hospital Ray tested negative for COVID-19.
He was released from the hospital after a four-day stay.
Ray wasn’t truly recovering from what ailed him, however.
“We thought he was going to get better, but things took a turn for the worst,” Doug said.
He scheduled a doctor’s appointment for a few days after his release from the hospital. During that doctor’s visit Ray tested positive for COVID-19 and was readmitted to the hospital.
Doug Forsman says his father was admitted to a quarantine unit and was getting fluids from an IV.
His condition worsened and was later transferred to the intensive care unit.
Initially Sandra and the couple’s five children couldn’t see Ray. But that changed at the end.
Doug says he and his siblings got to see their father a couple times, however, the grandchildren had to see him through a window.
“I did get to see him a couple times,” Doug said.
Three days before passing away on December 22, Ray was sitting up in a chair and in a good state of mind.
“We got to talk and I was able to tell him what he meant to me as a father,” Doug said.
“I was able to tell him I loved him,” he said.
On December 21, doctors told the Forsman family it should prepare for the worst.
Ray lost, and never regained consciousness.
“He justed faded,” Doug recalled.
“He couldn’t beat it,” he said of COVID-19.
“His body couldn’t fight it. His lungs were overwhelmed,” Doug said.
With Sandra by his side, Ray away at 9 p.m. that evening, three days before Christmas and just three weeks before his 82nd birthday on January 10.
When Ray Forsman fought COVID-19, the disease didn’t affect just Ray, his wife of 60 years said.
“The families are affected, too,” Sandra Forsman said.
“It’s hard. There are so many memories,” Sandra said of Rays loss.
Doug Forsman says it’s real hard coming to terms with his father’s unexpected death and the fact that he was unjustly taken by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s why it’s important that people wear a mask and not spread it,” Doug said of the coronavirus.
Masks are about protecting others from the disease, not protecting ourselves, Doug said.
Not wearing masks leads to the spread of COVID-19.
“My Dad became another statistic because of that,” he said.
Reach Jeff Hage at email@example.com