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Ray Stone, former Coeur d’Alene mayor, dies

Ray and Betty Stone at their home in Coeur d'Alene on Feb. 26, 2010. (Kathy Plonka)
Ray and Betty Stone at their home in Coeur d'Alene on Feb. 26, 2010. (Kathy Plonka)
Former Coeur d’Alene Mayor Raymond L. Stone, a World War II veteran, teacher and jazz musician, died today. He was 89. Stone served on the City Council from 1971 to 1979 and two terms as mayor, from 1986 to 1994. “He had a heart of gold that he protected with a crusty exterior,” said Susan Weathers, the former city clerk. “He loved Coeur d’Alene, he loved to be an ambassador for the city of Coeur d’Alene.” “We used to call him the Tasmanian devil because he would come into City Hall and he’d go through all the departments and get everybody motivated to work harder, and then he’d just leave,” Weathers said. “I just loved that about him.” Stone taught at Coeur d’Alene High School and North Idaho College. As mayor he became active in the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations to counter the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations that had taken root in the county. In 1987, Stone and others accepted the Raoul Wallenberg Award, presented to the city for its human rights work. It’s named for the Swedish diplomat who saved an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II by issuing them passports and hiding them. City Councilor Ron Edinger, a close friend who met Stone in 1956, described Stone as “a great historian” and “an educator at heart.” “Ray was a great guy,” Edinger said. “He was kind of hard to get to know sometimes, but after you got to know him, he was a kind-hearted individual. He always looked out for the little guy.” “I lost a very dear friend and a good golfing buddy,” he said. Stone grew up in Craigmont, Idaho, and took up drumming in high school. He attended college in Lewiston but put his education on hold to join the Army after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. He married his high school sweetheart, Betty, on July 8, 1944, in San Angelo, Texas. One month later he was deployed to Europe and fought in three campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge. The Army awarded him the Bronze Star for his service. As a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, he was one of the first liberators of Camp Wobbelin near Ludwiglust, Germany. He and his fellow troopers found 1,000 dead – mostly Jews – and another 3,000 dying prisoners in the compound, a way station for men, women and children on their way to the Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen death factories. “The most fearsome, depressing, traumatic experience of my life,” Stone said in a 2009 interview. In 1988, council members of the new U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., summoned Stone to the nation’s capital to award him the Eisenhower Liberation Medal for his part in the liberation of Wobbelin and because of Coeur d’Alene’s stand for human rights. In a 1993 guest column in The Spokesman-Review, Stone wrote, “It is a fact that not all battles against bigotry are fought on a global scale as in World War II. They are fought every day in one’s own mind and heart within our city and other cities that are faced with bigotry and injustice perpetuated by small bands of fanatics whose philosophy is not at all in line with the constitutional principles of the United States.” With the help of the GI Bill, he resumed his college education and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and education from Whitworth College in 1951 and a master’s in education from the same school the following year. Stone taught government, history, health and P.E. at Coeur d’Alene High from 1951 to 1957, then taught at NIC in the social science division. He also served as dean of faculty there for a time. He kept active as a musician, drumming for the Ray Stone Swing Band at local gigs until recently. Stone, who continued to live in Coeur d’Alene, is survived by his wife. Their son Daniel died in 2002.
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