Ray Hunder lives at Boutwells Landing, in Oak Park Heights MN, and was part of the original inspiration behind our “My Why” series. Ray shared some of his experiences with 750 leaders at last November’s PHS Management Retreat and we recently sat down with him again to reflect on the various ways that he lives out his “why.”
Everyone knows Ray. Some even call him “Mr. Boutwells,” but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, Ray and his wife, Alice, have lived at Boutwells Landing for 17 years, so he has had the time to meet quite a few people, but Ray is soft-spoken and would prefer others to be in the spotlight. One of the special things about Ray is that he meets people one at a time. Even if you aren’t the only person in the room, you feel like it. He describes being guided by the question “What is the most loving thing to do?” (and once you meet Ray, you know it’s true!).
When asked what he is passionate about, Ray responded with a litany of things he sees other people doing in the community – Sheila Gustafson’s work on the spiritual tasks of late adulthood; Joe Carufel’s skill in the workshop and organizing volunteers to help other residents with everyday “fix it” requests; Irma Escue’s passion in the Creative Arts studio and creating handmade birthday cards for every resident; Mary Spencer’s leadership around the education committee and the historic McKean school restoration project (just to name a few). This is one of Ray’s spiritual gifts – to take joy in the accomplishments of others.
It might sound odd, but most of Ray’s relationships begin in teaching people how to use computers and access the internet. He described moving to Boutwells Landing in 2002 and being excited that the community was wired with high speed fiber optics. However, most people were still on dial-up, or had never been on the internet. Ray reflected, “Having taught computer courses, I knew that I could help people get connected in a better way.”
And connect people he did. Over the years, Ray has become a fixture of the new resident welcome at Boutwells Landing and is a one-man geek squad! One-by-one, Ray helps people with computer questions and has guided countless people in setting up their first e-mail accounts. Early on he began compiling e-mail addresses and created a directory for the whole campus. As Ray gets to know people, he helps connect them to volunteer opportunities and programs. He also helps people launch new groups by creating distribution lists of people with similar interests. Today, Boutwells Landing has at least 45 resident-led groups with focus areas ranging from creative art to social justice.
Walking the Walk
Ray also meets people by walking around – a lot! He and Alice were involved in a serious car accident and Ray maintains a religious walking routine around the 100 acre Boutwells Landing campus and outdoor trails to rehab his injuries. His goal is at least 10,000 steps a day.
Ray doesn’t just walk; he also recites 1 Corinthians 13 to himself to keep his focus on a spirit of love. He said, “These verses are reassuring to me because they teach us that even if we had perfect knowledge, perfect faith, perfect knees that didn’t ache, we would still be nothing without love. With love as my guide, I can experience the joy of Christ’s face reflected back in those around me.” He often jokes with people, “If you find me dead on one of the walking trails, you will know that I enjoyed my life right up to that day.”
Whether he is walking to someone’s apartment to offer computer support, or making his rounds to enjoy nature and draw inspiration from the spirit within, Ray presents a serene image of balance and purpose and openness to the serendipity possible in each interaction.
Not Retired, Re-Purposed
Ray grew up on a dairy farm overlooking the Mississippi River. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison and as he put it, “as one of seven children, the only option was to work ourselves through school.” In the Airforce he was on the early edge of airborne electronics, a passion that continues to this day. After his service, he went to work for the 3M Company and was hired by Richard (Dick) Drew, the inventor of Scotch Tape. Ray described, “Dick taught us the principle of constructive ignorance – that you need to know enough to get started, but not so much that you never take a good risk to make a positive difference.”
Ray described that he has never identified with the word “retirement” because it seems to signal more of an end than a beginning. He said, “I am not retired, I am re-purposed.” Of the 45 resident-led groups at Boutwells Landing, Ray’s name is next to quite a few, and often with a co-leader. He and Alice host a small group they call “Gifts of Grace” for couples to explore books like Joan Chittister’s “The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully.” They host another group for singles whose spouses have recently passed. Ray worked with others to create the Memory Lane Video Archive, a series to explore the stories and passions of Boutwells Landing residents. Ray described the first video in their archive – “It all started when I was helping get someone set up on the internet and when he took his shoes off, I noticed one of his feet was clearly injured and when I saw a photo of a B17 aircraft on the wall, we got talking about his experience in the war and I suggested we record him sharing his story because it moved me. That was the first one, and now we have over 100.”
Ray leads a group around energy conservation and he is part of the social justice group that identifies meaningful outreach initiatives beyond Boutwells Landing. Ray speaks with passion about these causes, like the work of Solid Ground to break the cycle of homelessness and Valley Outreach to help neighbors in the community with things like food and clothing. Ray has also been a volunteer for various prison mentorship and fellowship programs. As Ray was describing his volunteering, he paused to recall the words of Jesus from Matthew 25: “Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done for me.” He continued, “For the longest time, I wondered how I could do this. I have now volunteered for the prison support group for more than thirty years – it has helped my own life greatly. We aren’t there to fix people, but to help one another live a better life.”
Reflecting on the verse from Matthew again he shared, “Sometimes when Alice goes to chapel, I will visit someone in their room, perhaps someone whose spouse goes to chapel, but they don’t feel comfortable or able to go – this is my form of worship.” He continued, “I am also proud of being part of the ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ committee, raising funds to help residents stay at Boutwells if something drastic happens and they can no longer support themselves financially.”
He concluded, “At Boutwells, we have become a community that truly does care and love one another. It is a place where we can use our gifts and abilities. Recently a 100-year-old outlasted his old computer and I assisted him to set up a new one to help him continue his projects. When I help someone, they are happy because I helped them, and when I am leaving, I tell them that they have also uplifted my day.’ What we do is endeavor to uplift each other, and I will keep on for the rest of my life.”