Dr. Leroy R. Ray Jr., Western Michigan University professor emeritus and a former director of the Black Americana Studies program, died Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Kalamazoo. He was 82.
Ray joined the faculty in 1973 as the Black Americana Studies program's director and remained at its helm for his entire WMU career. He retired in 1996 after 23 years of service to the University.
Leroy R. Ray Jr.
While at WMU, Ray offered courses on black women and black male and female relationships and organized an annual W.E.B. DuBois Conference. He also started the Afra-American Chorale, initiated a major study of the black church in Kalamazoo and began numerous community outreach programs.
Those programs included the Farm Research Cooperative, which Ray founded and served as executive director. Located on his farm in Bloomingdale, the cooperative allows youth and small farmers to learn about science, agriculture and nature.
Ray began the Hands-On Science Training Program for elementary-age African American youth sponsored by the Black Americana Studies program, which sought to inspire black students to study science and mathematics. Participants attended workshops and took part in activities at the cooperative farm as well as did work in laboratories at WMU.
Ray also hosted a horse show and later a black-owned rodeo at the farm in the 1980s and 1990s, partly as a learning activity and partly to celebrate the yearlong work of young minority scientists participating in the Hands-On Science Training program.
In addition, he was one of the founders of the annual Michigan Family Farms Conference and was the lead investor in the Lester Lake Investment Corp.-Simpson's Resort initiative.
Before coming to WMU, Ray was a professor of education, and dean of education and director of the Inter-institutional Cooperative Unit at Malcolm X College, City Colleges of Chicago. He held advanced degrees in science education, but began his professional career as a biologist and biochemist.
His background includes positions teaching high school biology in Louisiana, working as an engineering microbiologist at the Aerojet-General Tire Corp. in California, and serving as a professor of biology and director of community development at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.
Ray received a football scholarship to attend college. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Southern University in 1952, a master's degree from the University of Southern California in 1964 and a doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1971.
Over the years, Ray was involved with numerous national, state and regional organizations and agencies. He also was a longtime supporter of the Piney Woods School in Mississippi, a Golden Heritage Life member of the NAACP, and a proud member of the American Quarter Horse Association.
A celebration of Ray's life will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, in the Red Barn at the Farm Research Cooperative, 14530 County Road 665, in Bloomingdale, Mich.
Memorial gifts may be made toward a youth scholarship fund payable to the Farm Research Cooperative, 14530 CR 665, Bloomingdale, MI 49026.
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