Remembering Ray Kunst

The Beacon - May/June 2012

From our May/June 2012 Newsletter

As we celebrate Memorial Day, we would like to take a moment to remember our very own Raymond J. Kunst, a man who spent a life in service to both God and his country. Many of you know that Ray and his wife Thelma were one of the founding couples of RRC. In 1957, six families met in their home, began Rockford Reformed Church, and elected the first church board, with Ray Kunst as chairman. But this is just one part of a life richly lived.

Ray and Thelma were high school sweethearts. A fourth-generation flower grower (his family came from the Netherlands), Ray never had a shortage of flowers for Thelma. They even went on dates in the family flower truck. They graduated in 1940. Two years later they were married, and four short months after that, Ray was drafted into the US Army.

After the war, Ray, a gifted florist and designer, went back into the family business. In 1952, he and Thelma started Rockford Flower Shop (on Main Street), which they expanded into a greenhouse and garden center, with additional locations by the Michigan State Police Post. They owned the business for 23 years before selling it to its current owners. In 1975, after selling the flower shop, Ray went to work part-time at Rockford Hardware (Ace), where the garden center is now named after him.

Appropriately, it was in his flower shop that the seed for Rockford Reformed Church was planted. Ray once related this story about a day in 1957: “Many of you have heard the story about the three families starting Rockford Reformed Church, but what you don’t know is that it all began with one [who acted] under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The seed was planted and fell on fertile ears. One day a lady entered my flower shop in Rockford. She introduced herself as Lee Carter [now Harvey], and said she had a question. I naturally thought it would be about flowers, but it wasn’t.”

Instead, she asked him about church and a conversation ensued. Both attended Reformed churches in the Grand Rapids area, and agreed that the distance was difficult on winter roads, but there was no closer option within the church denomination. Lee suggested, “I think we need a Reformed witness in Rockford.” Ray agreed. Thus the seed was planted, one that would grow over the next 50 years to the Rockford Reformed Church that we have today. In the coming months, we will continue to tell the story of our church’s history.

Ray was called home to be with the Lord in 2010. Thelma talks fondly of their life together and the important role that faith played throughout their life. Through all the twists and turns, the injuries, in every seemingly chance meeting, they knew it was all part of God’s larger plan for their lives. Our church and our community are truly blessed because of them.


In His Own Words

Ray KunstMy name is Raymond J. Kunst, serial number 36407190. I was drafted into service October 29, 1942, at Kalamazoo, Michigan. Then I was sent to Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan, for assignment. On November 20, 1942, I was sent by train to Fort Benning, Georgia to join the 10th Armored Division. My basic training was with the 90th Recon Medical Detachment. After our Tennessee maneuvers (June-September 1943), I was reassigned to Medical Detachment, 54th Armored Infantry Battalion. In March of 1944 I received the rating of T5 as Surgical Tech.

On September 14, 1944, we were sent overseas. We arrived at Cherbourg, France, on September 23. After our equipment came, we went into combat November 1, 1944. I was with units that first probed into Germany. Part of our battalion and medical detachment were assigned to Col. Roberts’ Combat Command B. I was part of this unit. On December 17, 1944, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant as Senior NCO of the Medical Detachment.

Of course that day we also received orders to go to Bastogne, Belgium. Our assignment was with Team O’Hara to take up position near Bras. On December 20th we were ordered to go back to Bastogne. While trying to talk with two Belgian civilians about setting up our aid station in a building, a shell exploded into the floor and I received shrapnel wounds to my left foot and right ankle. I was sent by ambulance back to an Evac Unit. As we left Bastogne, the Germans were shelling the road behind us. At the Evac Unit, we were loaded in the night into ambulances and moved further back because the Germans got too close.

From a field hospital unit, I was sent by train to a hospital in Paris, France. I spent Christmas 1944 in a nice hospital bed, clean sheets, good food, etc. Some luxury! On January 1, 1945 I was sent by plane to an Army hospital in Salisbury, England. After treatment for wounds and recovery time, on February 20, I was loaded on a hospital ship to be sent back to the States. In as much as my legs were in a cast, I could not walk, no fun! While traveling in the English Channel, the water pumps on the ship broke. We pulled into Plymouth for repairs. Wasn’t too happy with English workers taking tea breaks. A ten-day trip to the States turned into 22 days. Food on ship was much better than mutton and brussels sprouts in the hospital.

We landed in New York Harbor, March 13, 1945 (our daughter’s first birthday). Sent same day by train to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana. Received treatment there and had cast removed so I could walk with crutches. After more treatment and medical leaves, I was given a medical discharge on October 11, 1945.

A few mementos, including a piece of shrapnel pulled from Ray’s leg and the knife that was shattered in his pocket when he was hit (click on image to enlarge):

Ray Kunst Collage

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