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September 24, 2017

9/12/2017 7:29:00 AM
'Anytime anybody wanted anything to do with the military, Ray was there'
Co-founder of Military Support Group remembered
Jamie Taylor/river news
Jamie Taylor/river news

Kayla Breese
River News Feature Writer

A fixture at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in Oneida County for years, and co-founder of the Military Support Group responsible for sending packages to thousands of deployed soldiers over the last 16 years, Ray Zastrow's dedication to the men and women of the U.S. military knew no bounds.

"Anytime anybody wanted anything to do with the military, Ray was there," LeRoy Eades, co-founder of the Military Support Group, said of his friend who passed away Tuesday at the age of 82.

According to Eades, the future of the support group was on Zastrow's mind in the days after he learned he had cancer.

"(Ray) was worried about our Military Support Group," Eades said, adding that he is hopeful the organization will continue to operate.

Zastrow served on the Oneida County Veterans Service Commission for many years and was involved in the hiring of Veterans Service Officer Tammy Walters.

"He's going to leave a real hole because he did so much for so many," Walters said. "It's going to seem strange. Anybody who goes to our Veterans Day ceremonies and Memorial Day ceremonies, they are going to notice him not being there. He was such a presence because he was always there and always active and just a kind soul, a wonderfully kind soul."

"We're really going to have to pull together because Ray was really the backbone of a lot of things that happened around here including our Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies," she added. "He was the heartbeat of a lot of things. He was very active in a lot of things and there's going to be a lot of people who are going to have to step up to (fill the void)."

Zastrow was a veteran himself - he joined the U.S. Army in 1952 and retired in 1984 as a captain with Wisconsin Army National Guard - but Eades said he was gracious toward those who did not serve themselves but wanted to help veterans.

"He was very instrumental because I was never in the service, and a few people held that against me but Ray never did," Eades said. "He included me in everything that had to do with military."

"He's going to be missed by a heck of a lot of people," he added. "Especially me."

Eades and Zastrow's paths overlapped during their working careers. Eades was with the Rhinelander Fire Department while Zastrow served 20 years with the Oneida County Sheriff's Department, retiring as a captain. The two men got to know each other better starting in 2001, when they created the Military Support Group, a volunteer-led organization responsible for shipping over 5,000 care package boxes to deployed soldiers.

Zastrow also played a part in changing Military Road in Rhinelander to Adams Way in memory of Sgt. Ryan Adams who was killed in action on Oct. 2, 2009.

Every year since 2011, the Wisconsin branch of the U.S. Army's Survivor Outreach Services has held a weekend retreat for family members of those in the military who have died while in the service.

That event is known as "Camp Serenity" and is held at Camp American Legion near Lake Tomahawk.

The northern Wisconsin representative for the SOS program, Tara Badgely-Westphal of Rhinelander, said Zastrow, through his participation in the Military Support Group, played a key role in supporting "Camp Serenity."

"That group financially sponsors 'Camp Serenity,'" she said. "They donate money every year to put towards the expense of the weekend."

A man of action, Eades said Zastrow "was instrumental in getting a lot of things going in the community. According to Walters, that includes the monument to local veterans outside the Oneida County Courthouse.

"The veterans monument in front of the courthouse that's because of Ray Zastrow, too," Walters said, explaining that Zastrow and another man created the monument in 1980. "It's because of those two gentlemen that we have that monument up front."

Zastrow was also involved in ensuring flags were displayed every year from Memorial Day through Veterans Day.

"The city put the flags up but Ray made sure the flags got cleaned," Walters said. "City Cleaners always did it at no expense. He got the flags on the poles, whatever flags we needed, if the poles were broken, if we needed to replace flags he would let us know and we would order them from this office."

"He just always noticed the little details and fixed things and he never did it for recognition, absolutely never did anything for recognition, only did it because that was the right thing to do," she added.

In addition to his work with military groups, Zastrow also helped others through his church.

He worked on the construction of the Zion Christian Day School, was a member of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and served on the Building Improvement Committee.

After retirement, he joined the WELS Builders for Christ organization, a group of volunteers who construct new schools, churches and parsonages, as well as remodeling. Zastrow assisted on over 37 builds across the country.

Walters said she was devastated when she learned of Zastrow's diagnosis, but is grateful he's found peace.

"Ray was a very Christian man, he knew where he was going," she said. "I know where he is. I know he is reunited with his first wife who passed away from cancer and he left a wonderful legacy behind, because he was an incredible man."

Zastrow's first wife, Carol (Zettler) Zastrow, died March 18, 2008.

"He served God, he served veterans, he was a phenomenal husband," Walters said. "I know when his first wife, Carol, was dying of cancer, shortly after she died Ray had to have rotator cuff surgery because she was so ill and so frail that he would carry her around. He hurt his shoulder carrying his wife around in her final days."

Walters said she would attend Zastrow's funeral which was scheduled for noon Saturday.

"I have to show my last respects to him because I think that highly of him," she said. "He was truly a great man, really truly. He didn't think he was anymore special than anyone else but he really was."

Kayla Breese may be reached at kayla@rivernewsonline.com.





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