A happy-go-lucky guy. Big smile. Kind of sassy. That’s how Dan Manion (ND ’64) remembers his college friend Ray Siegfried (ND ’65). They were teammates on the wrestling team, and Ray served as Dan’s cornerman during the Bengal Bouts. “Ray was a little guy, maybe 123 or 130 pounds, but he had no problem getting in there and fighting,” says Manion.
Years later, they often sat near each other during Notre Dame football games. Siegfried had done well in the aerospace parts business and was a major benefactor of the university, but to Dan, now a U.S. circuit judge, he was the same old Ray. “He would say, ‘Stay off your back, Manion,’ mimicking our old Notre Dame wrestling coach,” Dan recalls.
An adventurer, Siegfried took up deep sea diving as an adult. In fact, he helped fund underwater exploration projects and took part in dives to recover several shipwrecks.
But there was another side of Ray Siegfried, a side equally apparent to Manion. Ray Siegfried was a man of deep faith, a man who would “wear his faith on his sleeve and wasn’t embarrassed about it,” he says. For the past few years, Ray battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. For two long years, he lived as a quadriplegic, unable to speak or move. His only way of communicating consisted in blinking his eyes through an Eyegaze computer system that registered eye movements as typing. Throughout his ordeal, Siegfried continued to attend to his business, visit campus for board of trustees meetings, and painstakingly write email messages to relatives and old friends. Manion said he was impressed with Siegfried’s courage to take his limitations head on and to do the best he could to live with them. He recalls Siegfried saying poignantly in one of his messages that this disease “takes a little bit off of my fast ball everyday.”
He was also struck by Siegfried’s humility, openly exposing his vulnerability to others when he had once been so powerful.
As Dan Manion gathered with his large extended family for Christmas dinner last year, he chose to read excerpts from Ray’s messages before saying grace. “This disease of mine is the cross I was chosen to bear, and if it is God’s will I will do anything he asks of me,” Siegfried had written. “If it weren’t for my computer and prayers from friends and family, I wouldn’t have the same fighting spirit.”
Ray Siegfried died on October 6, 2005.
“When you see someone suffering the way Ray suffered,” says Manion, “everybody says, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ And that’s why I think God puts those people in front of us to say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about him. He’s going through his purgatory now. He’s going to be rewarded. But take notice.’ When it comes down to it, your faith and your family are what really matter and carry you through.”
Dean Carolyn Woo, who holds the Siegfried Chair, concurs. “Many people feel touched by God at a particular moment in their lives,” says Woo, “but then they go back to the busyness and routines of their lives and forget it. The important thing about Ray Siegfried is that he felt God’s presence, and he never forgot it.”