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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

NMU remembers: Ray Ventre

Northern Michigan University lost a beloved, charismatic individual last week when Ray Ventre, Ph.D., passed away unexpectedly. Ray, 66, was a professor and head of the English department at NMU. His viewing will be at 11 a.m., followed by the funeral at 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6 at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette.


A well-liked and respected educator, Ray was known for his infamous “snorting” laughter, his story-telling and his compassion for others.

“He was a huge supporter of the underdog,” Danielle Ventre-Olson, Ray’s youngest of two daughters, said. “He always really wanted to help people out, even if it was at the detriment of being successful.

“He always wanted people to be successful. He believed in people even when they didn’t believe in themselves, encouraged them to be better. That’s kind of what I remember about him. He was always kind of my hero, he always inspired me to do more and be more, and that I did have a voice, and that I could have an impact and to always give back to others.

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“He always had a smile, he was always laughing,” Danielle continued. “You always knew where he was because he just had this voice, where you just knew it was him. It was kind of booming and you always knew, well that’s my dad, I can hear him in the other room. And of course, the snorting laugh is legendary.”

Even up until the final minutes of his life, Ray was thinking of others. He passed away on Wednesday, Nov. 26 at a gas station, where Danielle said, when he stopped, he decided to pick up candy for the English department. His death was the result of a heart attack, common in his family history.

The outpouring of love toward Ray and the celebration of his life is evident in the memorial pages that have been created in his honor. Canale Tonella Funeral Home in Marquette posted an obituary page on their website, where over 30 individuals left comments and kind words about their final memories of Ray. Other faculty and former students have created their own website memorials.

Former associate professor at NMU, Cate Terwilliger, used the words “unique, intelligent, generous and ebullient” to describe Ray in her post, finding it fitting for his demeanor.

“He was a tireless and principled advocate for all of us, from the lowliest teaching assistant to the most accomplished faculty member, a servant-master, the rare kind of leader whose success was predicted on that of his charges,” Terwilliger wrote. “Down-to-earth and engaging, he made each of us feel welcome. Caring and committed, he lifted each of us up.”

In addition, English Language Institute Coordinator, Jo Doran, Ph.D., created a Facebook memorial page in honor of Ray, providing a space for friends and family to post their fondest memories, the Ray Ventre Memorial Page. The English department also shared a string of emails commemorating his life and his accomplishments.

Known for his charismatic leadership, Ray started his life in the seminary during his high school years, where he was training to become a priest in the Catholic faith.

His daughter, Danielle, offered one of his favorite stories to tell from when he was in the seminary. On one occasion, an incoming freshman asked him, “How will I know if I’m called to the vow of celibacy?” Danielle quoted Ray, imitating his joking personality. She said he told the student to expect an angel with the golden shears to come and “snip, snip,” take care of that problem. After convincing the rest of the orientation staff to go along with the story, Danielle said the kid innocently and completely believed him.

“But he couldn’t leave it at that,” Danielle said. “The story goes, and as with everything with my father it could be highly embellished, but the story goes that they paraded down the freshmen dorms, basically moaning, putting incense, making whipping sounds, and snip snip (noises), and they said they could hear freshmen just diving under their beds because they thought the angel with the golden shears had come.”

Following his high school years in the seminary, Ray attended Providence College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts. He later earned his Ph.D. from Brown University. Ray5

Prior to NMU, Ray spent two years at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he served as the English consultant for the Civic Education Project. During his 35 years at NMU, in addition to teaching and working as the union grievance officer, Ray helped develop an associate degree program at the Marquette Branch Prison.

Susan Morgan, coordinator of education abroad and exchange programs in the International Programs Office, offered her loving thoughts toward Ray in a post as well.

“Ray was one of those people you meet, rarely in a lifetime, who always had the time to stop and talk, and made you feel as if you were exactly the person he hoped to run into that day,” Morgan wrote. “He treated each person as his gift of the day.”

His daughter, Danielle, also said Ray was an active choir member at St. Peter Cathedral and a member of the Knights of Columbus, along with a very involved supporter of the arts.

Jamie Kuehnl, M.A., a faculty member in the English Department and Center for Native American Studies at NMU said Ray attended every Lake Superior Youth Theater show.

“It was much more than just a show of community and community arts support, however,” Kuehnl said. “He would wait around–sometimes for quite some time after the show–to make sure that he gave a bouquet of flowers to each and every performer who was the child of an English Department faculty member…It was one way of many that Ray extended his gracious heart and made our department feel more like a family.”

Another member of the English Department, Sirpa Nelson, M.F.A., said she used to call him RAVEN, after combining his first and last names, RayVen. Nelson said the significance behind the Raven, according to scripture, fit his personality perfectly.

“He told me on a number of occasions that if he were to die, that it would be because he would be better able to serve the English Department spiritually,” Nelson said. “In other words, just like the raven from the ark who never wanted to leave, RayVen is flying above us in Jamrich, continuing to pour his cosmic sized heart into the English Department.”

Aside from his trademark, boisterous laugh, Ray was known by many for the stories he told religiously, often in attempt to brighten the day for his listeners. He was known for telling stories in his classes about his days in the seminary and stories about his family, growing up.

One former NMU alumna, who never had Ray as a teacher, said she was still affected by him as an individual.

“The English department had a great sense of community, they were like family,” Thao Do posted on the funeral home Web page. “I truly believe Ray was a big reason for that feeling of support, belonging and trust. I saw it in the way I was always so welcome in the department by Ray, the faculty and staff, despite not being in the program myself.”

Ray was a big supporter of The North Wind and every week met with the newspaper adviser, Assistant Professor Cheryl Reed, to talk about stories. He often offered support and advice to student journalists who were facing pressure and criticism.

“Ray was an armchair journalist,” Reed said. “He was trained up in the Catholic Social Justice movement and he practiced this in his overwhelming support for the underdog and those who were powerless. He was a loyal and devoted leader.”

Memorial services will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 with a visitation with family at St. Peter Cathedral in the Bishop’s room, with a 1 p.m. mass to follow. Following, at 2:30 p.m. in the University Center Explorer rooms at NMU, there will be a celebration to honor Ray’s life and his accomplishments.

NMU alumna Rebecca Rousseau said Ray was more than a professor. He was also a fatherly figure to her, after losing her own father at a young age.

“I am but one voice among the masses touched by this brilliant, inspiring, humorous, kind soul–the legacy he left at NMU will never fade,” Rousseau said. “He was and will always be the brick and mortar of every sidewalk and every building at Northern Michigan University.”

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