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Published: Sunday, 2/6/2011

Raymond C. Sommer, 1921-2011: WWII vet was union activist, Democratic ward chairman

Raymond C. Sommer, 89, an activist with the Democratic Party who owned a real estate business and later held jobs with state of Ohio, Lucas County, and the city of Toledo, died Thursday at Lake Park Nursing Facility in Sylvania.

The cause of death was unknown, but Mr. Sommer, a lifelong Toledoan, suffered from an intestinal tumor, said his son, Erich Sommer.

Mr. Sommer was born April 5, 1929, and attended Scott High School.

He was an avid listener of opera and classical music and as a teenager, Mr. Sommer would head to the main library downtown from his home on Page Street to listen to its vinyl record collection.

"When I was a kid I remember him listening to it at home all the time," he son recalled.

Mr. Sommer enlisted in the Army and was stationed in the Pacific Theater during World War II, serving in the Marianas campaign.

He suffered dengue fever and was sent home after his third bout. Erich said his father later learned that his unit went on to fight on Iwo Jima.

"He said he felt lucky he didn't have to face that," his son said.

After the war he was employed at Dana Spicer as a drill operator and edited the union newspaper.

"He was an activist in the union," his son said, recalling that his father also could be very outspoken when addressing a group, whether with the union or in politics.

"I remember when I was about 4 and I went with my Dad to Fulton School. All of the sudden my Dad stands up and starts popping off about something, and I thought to myself, ‘What is he doing?'"

"He was a real force," the younger Sommer said. "One second you're there daydreaming and in the next second your Dad is going off."

Although his father could be vocal, he never appeared to lose his temper, his son said.

Mr. Sommer served on the Democratic Party's executive board under chairman Bill Boyle and in 1960 took out papers to run for a City Council seat, but the party talked him out of it, as it was backing another candidate with a similar name and did not want to confuse voters, Erich said.

He was elected Democratic chairman in the 5th Ward in 1969 and in 1970.

"He turned conservative the older he got. He loved [President] Reagan," his son said. "It's funny how his politics changed in the 1980s."

In addition to his love of music, Mr. Sommer had a keen interest in Germany, the land of his ancestors, and began corresponding with relatives who lived near Berlin.

"When he was growing up [his parents] instilled a strong love of Germany in him," Erich said.

He dreamed of visiting Germany, but never was able to fulfill that wish, his son said.

After leaving Spicer in 1949, he started a real estate business with a partner that employed 10 to 15 people, selling homes, carryouts, trailer parks, and motels.

It was during a trip to New York City on real estate business when he met his wife of 49 years, Colombia-born Graciela.

He got out of the real estate business during a downturn in the market and began employment in the state transportation department, the city of Toledo's urban renewal office, and as a deputy auditor in the Lucas County Auditor's Office.

He finished his career with 15 years as a licensed sanitarian for the health department, retiring in 1981.

Mr. Sommer, a longtime member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, loved the Catholic Church, his son said.

He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and a lay member of the Third Order Society of St. Francis.

After his heart attack and stroke in 2002, Mr. Sommer seldom got out of the house, his son said.

Mr. Sommer is survived by his wife, Graciela; sons, Erich and Kurt; daughter, Suzanne Schlee, and brother, Eugene Sommer.

Visitation is from 2 to 8 p.m. Monday at Blanchard-Strabler Funeral Home and continues at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, where a funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m.

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com, or 419-724-6050



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