Ramczyk says mom lived to love, care about others

Ray Ramczyk and wife Joan loved to dance. Here, they show the wedding guests of son Mike Ramczyk how it’s done at Hawk’s View Golf Course in Lake Geneva, May 2011. (Submitted/SLN)


For the last few months, things began to deteriorate with my mom’s health.

Doctor appointments, a hospital stay and medicine became the new “normal,” a harsh reality for such a vibrant soul.

Joan Ramczyk, known to some as Joni, or even “Joni Bologna,” passed away peacefully Dec. 27, two days after her 77th Christmas, another where she got the unique opportunity to see all six of her children and 15 grandchildren.

A person I always liked to tell people was a “real-life Saint,” based on her Catholic devotion and genuine empathy for everyone she encountered, Joni lived a life of service – to her family, friends, co-workers and heck, even strangers.

To know her was to love her, as one Facebook comment so eloquently captured, and that couldn’t be more spot-on.

Joni’s service wasn’t necessarily the type you may be thinking of, where you give material items to people or donate to charity. No, it was something much deeper.

Her gift was love…

…Time (though she memorably would say ‘I don’t live by the clock’).

…A helpful word, a laugh, something to get you through the day.

She miraculously remembered EVERYTHING about each person she met.

Don’t believe the hyperbole?

A teacher I recently worked with at Waller School struck up a conversation after a long day, and she said she was retiring.

She said Joni was her first-grade teacher, some 55 years ago.

Decades later, mom still remembered her name, family names, and, of course, her birthday.

It meant so much to my mom to simply know other people’s stories – their triumphs, their struggles, them.

That same woman, along with her entire first-grade class, was invited to Joan and Ray’s wedding in 1963. And by golly, some of those kids and their families attended.


A sports lover, Joni helped induct Ray into the Burlington Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

A Burlington lover

Joni’s congeniality-based relationship approach permeates now in her four girls and two boys, and that’s the biggest thing I took away from the lovely funeral service.

Hundreds showed up, all with their own personal story of how they knew Joni, and it wasn’t just a sincere, somber condolence.

In fact, people talked about her laugh, her smile, and a concrete example of her radiant energy, something they never forgot.

Whether it was her loud, free-spirited cheering at a sporting event, a surprise gift of cookies, a hug or just a smile, Joni got your attention, and won you over.

Area ties to St. Charles School, Catholic Central High School, Cottonpicker restaurant, Brandy Bay (now Waterfront) and the Union Grove Teacher’s College showed her love for her hometown people.

Roughly 90 percent of the visitor book of those who came to her wake showed Burlington addresses, and that is just so cool.

For six glorious decades, it was Joni’s mission to get to know, and show love to, as many people possible, and the community reciprocated ten-fold.

She treated people like family, whether they were co-workers, family, friends or someone she introduced herself to at Wal-Mart that day.

And if you moved away, she always thought about you, as evidenced by tons of stories of hand-written letters received and birthdays remembered.

And if you were really lucky, there were even three dollars and a stick of gum stuffed in the envelope to brighten your day.

My mom understood one of the best lessons in life – do unto others.

People remember how you made them FEEL, not necessarily what you said, what you did or if you made a mistake.

Winners of dance contests over the years, Joni and Ray won their final one at grandson Zack Gesteland’s wedding, June 29, 2018, at the Landing in Burlington. They won based on being the longest-married couple. A fitting date, it was Joni and Ray’s 55th wedding anniversary. They are joined by daughters Laura, Lisa, Julie and Mary Jo, and sons Michael and Steve. (Submitted/SLN)


Grief is unpredictable

Overwhelming pain and sorrow in the days after mom’s death left me in a haze.

Suddenly, every negative thought I ever had about my mom disappeared, like it was scientifically removed from my DNA.

From time to time, I feel regret.

Should I have called that day? Why didn’t I take Cora (my daughter) over to play more often instead of going out to breakfast or working?

Why did I give mom a hard time when she said she didn’t feel well and couldn’t come to family Christmas?

Those selfish, weak emotions suddenly disappeared, and I learned from the best teacher I ever had.

It’s OK.

Just because you did something your entire life, it can change, and you will still be OK.

Not everything has to go your way, in order for you to be happy.

Happiness was mom’s default. She did not yell – at least not repeatedly. Seriously, though, she was incapable of staying mad at anyone, no matter how much you poked, prodded or downright upset her.

She found happiness in the joys of others, and if something good happened to you, it’s almost like it happened to her, too.

Joni was one of those rare human beings who followed God’s lessons to a tee – turn the other cheek, treat others how you want to be treated, love thy neighbor, all the hits.

Last weekend, I finally was happy enough to visit a friend, and we grieved.

I’ve made it a point to connect more often with my dad, and I’ve been fortunate to have a wide net of support.

People offering their well wishes when I’m running errands has meant so much.

One friend was torn inside and downright broken over the fact he had to miss the funeral for a mandatory work shift.

Honestly, I wanted to be mad at him, and at first I was, but I proceeded to ask myself: “What would mom do?”

The answer is easy: she would have mercy.

From heartbreak to bitter sadness, to clouded thoughts to now some semblance of sanity, the grieving process is just that, a process, and it will probably take forever.

I’ve posted old photos of her on Facebook, talked to longtime friends for the first time in years and belly-laughed at their memories of her, cried over sympathy cards, bawled my eyes out with siblings and hugged friends I’ve never hugged before.

There’s no right way to get through this, but Joni’s spirit is starting to set in and inspire me.

It even led to a semblance of confidence, enough to work out at the gym and face people Tuesday.


Smile and say hello

Joni displays some colorful flowers, courtesy of her kids, at Mother’s Day 2015 in Burlington. (Submitted/SLN)

Death doesn’t exist so we can shut down and disappear forever.

The memories of the deceased – their love, energy, spirit and kindness – entered our mind and body at times over the years and never left.

Joni lives on through everyone she touched, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The reason they initiated and said “Hello” with a smile to that stranger at the office could be because they learned it from her.

A mother is one’s first, and closest, relationship.

From diapers to the first day of school to college graduation, marriage and grandchildren, mom is the one person you can call for reassurance, venting and most importantly, unconditional love.

No offense, but mothers who say, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mom” are only mad for a moment.

A friend loves and accepts you, no matter what, just like mom.

Thank you, mom, for being amazing, loving dad and raising six lucky, lucky, kids.

I vow to carry on your legacy.

In honor of Joni, strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, write a letter to an old friend or just ask someone about their zodiac sign.

The mere fact you’re reading this newspaper would make her smile.

She loved the newspaper.

I miss you, love you and can’t wait to see you again, mom.

Mom, I love you. I miss you more than anyone can understand. I hope to see you again. (Submitted/SLN)