Community will miss grocer’s upbeat attitude

Joel Klaassen, founder of the Hillsboro Free Press, called Ray Franz a big man with a big heart.Ray Franz of Hillsboro was able to inspire family, friends, former employees, church youth and others to do their best, and in a positive manner.

During his lifetime, Franz played a significant role in the Hillsboro business community as co-owner of Paul & Ray’s Supermarket from 1959 until his partner, Paul Ediger, retired in the 1980s.

“As early as the seventh grade, Ray had a dream to be a grocer,” one family member said.

Ray’s son, Dale, who now owns and operates the same supermarket started by his father and Ediger, said his father “was a very good man.”

“He was not a negative person,” Franz said. “In the store, I was reminded that when someone did say something negative, dad would say, ‘Well, that’s stinkin’ thinkin’.’

“(Dad) looked at the bright side of everything,” he added.

Joel Klaassen, founder of the Hillsboro Free Press, said Ray Franz was a big man with a big heart.

“I got to know him in high school when I was in charge of putting together the Paul and Ray’s grocery ad for the newspaper,” he said. “This was before they went to the preprinted insert that continues today.”

As a young person, Klaas­sen said it was frightening to talk to business people who are older, but Ray Franz put that fear to rest.

A former employee

Joel Mathis, a Hillsboro native and now a freelance writer living in Lawrence, said he worked for Ray Franz from 1989 until 1994.

“I didn’t have too good of a work ethic when I started working at the store,” he said. After five years, though, Mathis credits “his boss” with teaching him a lot about the value of a job.

“With that deep bass voice of his, he would sometimes break out in some kind of German hymn while walking in the store aisles,” Mathis said.

Mathis said Franz was more than a businessman; he was someone the community was calling for.

“When I went to work (at the store), I had the knowledge of a work ethic, and he was patient with me while I evolved,” Mathis said.

Teaching life’s lessons

“Ray was always a generous-spirited guy, who was a Sunday school teacher for high school sophomore boys,” Mathis added.

Don Ratzlaff, a lifelong resident who sat under Franz’s tutelage in the early 1970s, said, “I think most of us who came through Ray’s Sunday school class looked forward to ‘Church Visit Sunday.”

Ratzlaff said Franz took their class to a Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, worship service.

“We had had ‘Holdeman’ classmates prior to high school,” Ratzlaff said. “They dressed more conservatively than we did and followed some lifestyle rules we didn’t understand.

“For me, the impact of that visit was that I realized church groups that demonstrated faithfulness differently than we did were being faithful to God as they understood his leading—just like our church was trying to do. It was a mind-broadening experience for me.”

Mathis said Franz also was devoted to singing. He sang in the church choir, was the bass in the MARK IV men’s quartet for more than 60 years, and was a charter member of the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus.

Doing what’s right

“He taught me how to do things the right way,” Mathis said. “When I think about all the young men and women who worked for him, and the decades of those having their first real job working for Ray—there must have been dozens of us.

“It was kind of our first training in being an adult worker, and it was at the hands of Ray Franz, whose influences were immeasurable.”

Klaassen added: “I really appreciated his sense of humor, and I know for sure he will be missed.”

Sausage maker

Dale Franz said his father was the person who made “Dale’s Sausage.”

Mathis said that signature smoked sausage is something that will always be remembered.

“Whenever I’ve met people who have heard of Hillsboro, there are two things they bring up: the Arts and Crafts Fair and Hillsboro sausage,” he said.

In a small town, a grocery store is an essential service for everyone, but Ray Franz didn’t stop there.

Pat Bartel remembers Ray Franz as a pillar of the Hillsboro community.

He completed his service April 29. He was 87.

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