Ray Gene Thiesen
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Ray Gene Thiesen
  • July 14, 1925 - May 2, 2017
  • Orangevale, California

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Ray Gene Thiesen was born on July 14, 1925 in Reedley, California. An identical twin, he was born 15 minutes after his twin Roy making him the youngest of 5 children to Peter and Hulda Thiesen.

Ray died in Citrus Heights, California on May 2, 2017 at the age of 91 after suffering a stroke. He enjoyed a ling and productive life. Proud to be called an "educator", Ray devoted his life to teaching students, mentoring teachers and, in his retirement years, working with prisoners to help them get back on track to be productive members of society. His favorite word was "accountability" and he was eager to share the 6 L's (Listen, Laugh, Love, Live "walk the talk", Learn, Legacy) with any audience.

Ray was raised on a farm and learned the benefit of hard work and perseverance at a very young age. Never afraid to get his hands dirty, he was happy working in the fields and pruning trees. Despite his rural upbringing, his desire was to go to college and be a teacher. He attended Reedley College, Fresno Bible Institute (now known as Fresno Pacific University) and graduated with a degree in Education and an elementary teaching credential from San Jose State in 1953. He first worked as a 4th and 5th grade teacher, but received additional training leading him to be a school counselor and later an elementary school principal, a challenging job he put his whole heart into. His older brothers Erven and Wesley became missionaries abroad in Brazil and Peru, but Ray became a domestic missionary. In 1977, he co-founded the Tulare County Christian Educators in Visalia, a group designed to encourage and strengthen the Christian witness of educators in public and private schools.

Ray was also a family man. He was married in 1960 to Joanne Tuck. They became parents to daughters Melinda, Janie, and later to Ann, who they adopted. Ray and Joanne established their home in Huron, California and later moved to Coalinga before settling in Visalia in 1966. He was principal of the former Carrie Barnett and Webster elementary schools and later also principal of Elbow and Elbow Creek elementary schools. He retired in 1985. During that time, he was also an active member of Neighborhood Mennonite Brethren Church and most recently, Gateway Church in Visalia. Through the years, he served on elder boards and as a Sunday School Superintendent. He most recently attended Sunrise Community Church in Fair Oaks, CA.

After retirement, Ray continued to mentor educators and volunteer his experience and expertise. Then, in 2003, he began volunteering with the Bill Glass Prison Ministry. For the past several years, he spent many Monday evenings leading Bible studies at the Tulare County Jail. At the age of 84, he founded Next Steps to Freedom, a group designed to help find jobs for parolees and encourage them to be accountable citizens and help prevent them from returning to their former lifestyles and jail.

Ray was pre-deceased by his parents, his brothers Erven and Wesley, sister Rosella and daughter Janie, who died of leukemia at age 5 in 1968. He is survived by his wife of 57 years Joanne Thiesen of Roseville, CA, daughter Melinda Ryan and her husband Rich of Orangevale, CA, grandson Zach Ryan and his wife Jessica of Citrus Heights, CA, grandson Marcus Peters and his wife Jetta of Kingsburg, CA, granddaughter Miranda Prins and her husband Nick of Kingsburg, CA, grandson Brody Everett of Bennington, OK, Ray's twin brother Roy Thiesen of Stockton, CA, and many loving nieces and nephews.

Ray will be missed, but his legacy will continue in his impact on his family, the public schools, and the many prisoners he encouraged to live up to their God-given potential.

But retirement was not all work for Ray. He and Joanne became world travelers. They were privileged to travel to such places as Israel and Egypt, Italy and Ireland. Ray and Joanne called Visalia home for more than 50 years, but moved to the Sacramento area in August 2016 to live near family in their twilight years. While he loved his family, it was accepted that Ray was especially partial to his canine friend Scruffy who was his side-kick for 16 years.