Nonjua “Nonnie” (Hesterlee) Ray, 73 of McKinleyville, passed away peacefully on September 24, 2020 at Vibra Hospital in Redding, with her loving husband Gary, son Brandon and daughter Danielle by her side.
She was born to the late Irvin and Priscilla Davis Hesterlee on October 13, 1946 in Springfield, Missouri. She graduated from McKinleyville High School in 1964. Shortly after high school she graduated from Fredrick & Charles Beauty College.
Nonnie married Gary Lee Ray on January 29, 1965 in Boise, Idaho. Since they were not 18, they legally couldn’t marry in California, so they flew to Idaho to tie the knot. Rumor has it one of their mothers did not want to sign the paper to allow them to marry, so they ran away and eloped. In 1974 Nonjua and Gary welcomed son Brandon into the world and after several miscarriages they welcomed daughter Danielle into the world in 1982. Nonnie always said, if she was going to be an old pregnant mother it’d better be a girl.
Nonjua and her husband lived in Eureka, Sonoma, and Blue Lake before buying their forever home in McKinleyville in 1985. Nonnie held several different jobs over the years. She worked at Bistrin’s Department Store, Sprouse Reitz, Joann Fabrics, Ron’s Villa Pharmacy, Lewis’ Department Store, and Arthur Johnson’s Clothing. She opened her own cleaning business in 1993 called “Ray of Sunshine House Cleaning Services.” She finally found her niche as a paraprofessional at Dow’s Prairie and Morris Elementary Schools in 1992, and retired in 2018 to become a full-time grandma/taxi driver for all five of her grandkids.
Nonjua was a longtime sorority sister of Beta Sigma Phi Sorority group, which she joined in October of 1988 and made numerous lifelong friends that she held near and dear to her heart. The sorority group went on many road trips and created many memories over the years. One of her dearest friends and sorority sister said, “Nonjua’s life was like a road trip full of family and friends.” She took so much pride in sewing and making wedding dresses and even her daughter’s senior prom dress. She was a great seamstress. If you knew her you knew she loved a good book; always the steamy McDreamy books.
Nonnie was such a strong woman. She wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. She would tell you what she thought no matter if you were right or wrong. Our family always joked that she had no filter. She was a fierce mama/grandma bear and would let you know if you did or said something wrong about one of her kids or grandkids; grandkids especially. She will be greatly missed at Baseball and Football games screaming “that’s a bad call,” or “that’s my baby.” We will always make sure she has a seat at the games with us. Nonnie loved her grandchildren and their friends so much. If she wasn’t driving them to a sporting event or a doctor’s appointment, she was taking them to get lunch during school lunch breaks. During one trip to Taco Bell with the grandkids, the wait was extra-long, when she got to the window to pay she said to the employee “Oh, we were here so long I forgot we had to pay.” The kids were embarrassed but knowing her like we do we just laughed. Her crazy sense of humor, smile, laugh and immense love for her family will be missed tremendously, but never forgotten. We love you to the moon and back Nonnie.
Nonjua is survived by her husband Gary Ray of 55 years; son Brandon Ray and daughter in law Darci St. John-Ray; daughter Danielle Ray and her partner John Sotelo; grandchildren Colton Ray, Adrianna Ray, Derek Ray, Braylon Sotelo and Miles Sotelo. She is preceded in death by her mother Priscilla Hesterlee, father Irvin Hesterlee, and brothers Jimmy and David Hesterlee.
A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, October 31 at 12 p.m. at the home of Gary Ray, 1428 Reasor Rd, McKinleyville, CA 95519. Please wear a mask and due to COVID restrictions this will be held outdoors. Please bring your own chair.
The family would like to extend a very special thank you to Sanders Funeral Home, and to the staff at Vibra Hospital in Redding, for the wonderful care they gave Nonjua in her final days.
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