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'A love so true'

Marie Havenga • Dec 26, 2017 at 10:00 AM

As the owner of Ray's Quality Welding in Grand Haven for nearly half a century, Ray Suchecki could fix just about anything. If something was broken, he could add support and weld it back together.

These days, Suchecki, 84, is dealing with something he can't fix. But he's still adding support, and doing all he can to keep himself and his wife together.

Ray's wife of 63 years, Louise, suffers from Alzheimer's disease. The family started noticing symptoms about four years ago. Subtle at first — then, as the disease robbed her brain of memory and function, unmistakable.

The normally competent cook could no longer follow a recipe. Instead of buying a can of pineapple to bake Ray's favorite pineapple upside-down cake, she'd buy a dozen. Her normally balanced-to-the-penny checkbook no longer carried a current account balance. Her old-school quality penmanship morphed into illegible scribbles.

Mary Cole, the couple's daughter, recalls the moment her mom's memory issues became real.

“My dad called me down to the shop one day,” Cole said. “He said, 'Honey, we've got a big problem. We have to talk to your mother. I'm getting all these calls — Mom is not paying the bills.'”

The disease progressed. Ray took care of his wife the best he could in their Nunica home. He worked less and less so he could tend to Louise, 83. Some days, he could only spare a couple of hours to work at the shop.

In late October, life turned more tragic for the Sucheckis. Louise suffered a stroke, which left her partially paralyzed on her left side. On Nov. 1, Louise moved into Heartwood Lodge in Spring Lake Township so she could undergo extensive physical therapy.

Spending full days at the lodge, so he could eat lunch and dinner with his wife, left even less time for work. As difficult as it was, Ray knew what he had to do.

On Dec. 1, Ray closed the doors of Ray's Quality Welding, 1640 Marion Ave. in Grand Haven, for the final time.

“I couldn't handle both ends of it,” he said. “I decided to close the business and take care of her. It was real hard. We were in business for 49 years. But all good things come to an end.”

Ray welded everything imaginable — kitchen utensils, water pumps, boat motors and farm equipment. There was nothing he couldn't fix, until now. All he can do is be there, enveloping his wife in love, reminiscing about their camping trips to Round Lake, their motor home adventures, and their days raising two daughters and seven sons.

The kids visit often. They're a huge source of support for Ray and Louise.

Ray visits Louise every day — many times for eight hours at a time.

“If she gets tired and takes a nap, then I'm able to go to the store or pick up prescriptions,” he said.

He watches her relearn everything she once knew — how to climb stairs, how to get in and out of a car.

The goal is for Louise to be strong enough to attend her husband's retirement party this coming Saturday, Dec. 30, scheduled for 2-6 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 1416 Washington Ave. in Grand Haven. The event is open to the public.

Ray looks forward to mingling with his customers, who over the years became his friends.

“I owe a lot of thanks to the community for helping us out and bringing us all the work through the years,” he said.

Ray and Louise graduated from Grand Haven High School in 1952, but they didn't know each other then. They met when both worked at Gardner Denver in Grand Haven. They married Feb. 6, 1954.

Cole said her parents still hold hands.

“They laugh and giggle like two schoolchildren to this day,” she said. “A love so true. He has always loved Mom and had such an appreciation for all she did for him and the family. Since the table has turned, the love, compassion and support he has given her is immeasurable. Seeing him care for her is something to behold.”

Just as she once cared for him, and the family business.

Louise served as the business' secretary until Alzheimer's took her organizational skills prisoner; her memory as its prize.

All nine of their kids worked there in some capacity over the years. Cole recalls hanging out there, playing school at a desk. She remembers her mom and dad's hard work, their devotion not only to the business but to each other.

As her dad worked long hours repairing snowplows, blueberry farming equipment, school chairs and desks, and even fabricated his own creations, Cole recalls something he used to say.

“He would often tell us kids that he couldn't close because people needed him,” Cole said.

Now, somebody needs him more.

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