September 24, 1922 - September 25, 2017
Service Date: October 5, 2017
Raymond Geller, 95, of Belleville, Illinois, born September 24, 1922, in Manhattan, New York, died Monday, September 25, 2017 at Eden Village Care and Rehabilitation Center in Glen Carbon, Illinois.
Ray, an only child, spent the first 14 years of his life living between homes in Greenwich Village, New York and Long Island with his mother Hazel (née Mullally) Didrickson and stepfather, Ferdinand Didrickson.
At 15, Ray, who hated school-likely in part due an early, undetected loss of hearing-left home and got his own furnished apartment on 14th Street in New York. Reflecting on this rather momentous decision he said, “I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do anymore.” And so began the creation of this individual who, incrementally, job by job, hustle by hustle, stone by stone, house by house, drink by drink, poem by poem, generosity by generosity and adventure by adventure would come to be rightfully known as a legend. It’s a word that gets thrown around a fair bit: in this case, however, it’s perhaps the only word to sum up this unique and vivid life and character.
He truly was a legend–a genuine, bona fide, scrapper and self-made man. Equal parts shrewd businessman, bon vivant, and raconteur, he was full of stories, reams of memorized poetry, chaos, intent, an utter lack of patience, and a great big (generous to a fault) heart.
He worked as a runner, bookie, army corporal, door-to-door salesman, taxi driver, carpenter, foreman, New York City restaurant manager, warehouse owner-operator, and general contractor.
In that last capacity, he bid and supervised the building of over 600 homes, 200 apartments, 6 banks, 15 business/shopping centers, a multi-level office/commercial building, numerous other restaurants, mini warehouses, car washes and other structures in the Metro St. Louis area. He also developed and supervised the building of condominium complexes in numerous locations in Florida, on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and Lake Ozark, Missouri.
He was a builder and co-owner of the Wendy’s restaurant franchise in the Quad Cities. He was on the Board of Directors at the Bank of Edgemont and a member of the Advisory Board at Bankers Trust.
Not by nature a “joiner,”-or conformist-he nevertheless was a proud member of the Carpenters Local 143 Union (he often said he had to become a contractor because he was “such a lousy carpenter”), and was a 60-year member of the St. Clair Country Club, where at his peak he was a 9 handicap golfer. One of the best loved stories concerning Ray’s many rounds of golf was when, on a bet, he used only a putter from start to finish on the par 5 18th hole at St. Clair; Ray said he could make par, but in the end he bested his bet by scoring an eagle. (And Jeff Hammel this story is for you!).
Ray was preceded in death by his:
- Beautiful, gracious wife: Wanda née Lewis, love of his life
(who loved him deeply in return, but who was also, by all accounts a “saint”-draw your own conclusions)
- Beloved son: Lance Corporal Charles Gregory Geller
- Mother: Hazel née Mullally Didrickson
- Father: Murray Geller
Ray is survived by his:
- Three children
- St. Clair County Circuit Judge Jan V. (Sha) Fiss of Belleville, Illinois
- Beau (David) Carstensen of Hinsdale, Illinois
- Raymond P. Geller of Belleville, Illinois
- Four grandchildren
- Zachary (Maya) Carstensen of Sacramento, California
- Caroline Carstensen of Chicago, Illinois
- J.V. (Lauren) Fiss of Columbia, Illinois
- Matthew Fiss of St. Louis, Missouri
- Three great-grandchildren
- Charli and Nora Fiss
- Kane Clifton Carstensen
- Nephew: Ron Lewis, of Chesapeake, Virginia
Memorials may be made to: National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and will be accepted at the funeral home; for online donation information please go to: <https://www.nad.org/donate/>. Condolences to the family may be expressed online at www.kurrusfh.com.
Visitation: Friends may call from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, October 5, 2017 at Kurrus Funeral Home in Belleville, Illinois.
Funeral: Memorial Service will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 5, 2017 at Kurrus Funeral Home with Father Matthew Elie of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church officiating. Private burial will be at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Belleville, Illinois.