Photos courtesy of Jim Ray

Fresno State honors memory of beloved marching band freshman

By ESRA HASHEM, Student Writer

It was just hours after playing in the Bulldog Marching Band at his first football game, when a car crash took 18-year-old Nathan Ray’s life.

It happened in early September, 2010, when his 2002 Subaru Forester drifted off the highway, rolled over and crashed into a telephone pole.

Nathan Ray, a freshman sousaphone player, died during “the happiest time in his life,” according to father Jim Ray. It was just hours before the accident when Jim witnessed Nathan’s giddiness and excitement as he sat in the music building, spending time with his friends before that first football game.

“His dream was to come to Fresno State,” Jim said. “He just wanted to be able to be here and be in the band.”

Today, a newly-endowed scholarship through the Fresno State Alumni Association honors Nathan’s memory. The Nathan Ray Memorial Scholarship was established by former band director Tim Anderson, and former music professor Michael Caldwell. It was funded with gifts from multiple donors, totaling $5,000. The scholarship supports outstanding freshmen musicians in the Bulldog Marching Band.

“Our band students sacrifice a great deal of time to make our campus a more spirited place,” said Dr. Michael Caldwell, senior director of academic personnel at the California State University Chancellor’s Office. “Scholarships help support and reward their contributions. [Tim and I] felt it would be important to make it possible for another student to receive financial support to continue attending school.”

Nathan Ray (right) and family at sister Jessi’s wedding, Nov. 2009

Nathan’s father said the scholarship is an honor to Nathan and his surviving family: Jim, mother LouAnne and siblings Amber, Jessi, Noah and Jonathan.

“We would bring the kids to Bulldog games when they were little,” Jim said. “We didn’t really watch football, but we’d watch the band. We’d get the seats where the band would be right in front of us.”

Jim said that attending Fresno State and being a part of the Bulldog Marching Band was a long-time dream of Nathan’s.

“He was a valedictorian and had a very high SAT in high school, but he only wanted to go to Fresno State,” Jim said.

“This was the only school he applied to, the only consideration he had — he wanted to play in the Bulldog band.”

Music was always near to Nathan’s heart. He began playing the upright bass, trombone and tuba in fifth grade. Even earlier than that, Jim recalls a two-and-a-half-year-old Nathan singing and dancing at home.

At Fresno State, he was a music education major and a German minor. He aspired to be a music teacher in Germany.

“He spoke German, had been to Germany, and obviously spoke English — but I often thought that his native tongue was music,” Jim said. “It was the language I think he spoke best.”

Jim said Nathan danced to the beat of his own drum. He was witty and humorous. He also enjoyed performing and pleasing the audience. Jim added that Nathan’s goal was make people happy and bring joy to their lives, and that he felt he could do that with music.

“He was very true to himself,” he said. “He didn’t always fit in but he just knew who he was, and wasn’t going to be any different than that. When he found music, there was no looking back. That was it for him.”

Since the accident took Nathan’s life five years ago, Jim said the Ray family has been embraced by Fresno State. With Jim as a facilities management staff member on campus, and Jon Ray a Smittcamp Family Honors Scholar, the Rays are truly a Bulldog family.

“There’s a community at Fresno State that’s much deeper than people realize,” Jim said. “When a tragedy happens, there’s a community there that will reach out; that reached out to us.”

Jim recalls how Nathan was remembered by the campus community shortly after the tragedy. There was no shortage of kind words of support from Fresno State faculty, staff and students. Jim said his family was embraced by the entire music department, who he tearfully recalls were also affected by the accident.

His son’s memory was honored with an original song created by Gary P. Gilroy, Fresno State professor and director of bands. Titled “E for Eternity,” the song was Gilroy’s musical interpretation of Nathan’s life, the crash and him being gone. The musical publication is still performed today, most recently at the Bulldog band’s spring 2015 concert.

As for the scholarship, Caldwell said each year, recipients will have the opportunity to be a part of Nathan’s legacy.

“Nathan was the kind of person who would become an instant friend,” Caldwell said. “Nathan was the perfect example of a person who is joyful, dedicated to excellence and enthusiastic about things that are important. Others should aspire to model these traits.”

Such an honor brought Jim at a loss for words for a moment. He deemed the scholarship “precious” to the whole Ray family.

“We feel very personally-attached to the Bulldog band, and we still like to watch the band perform,” Jim said. “And so we really love watching other kids get to enjoy that band experience. We are just delighted that they get to have their lives enriched with music, and that they get to enrich other people’s lives with it. And to maybe have a small way to contribute to some of their education — it’s really precious to us.”

To learn more about how to support student success by giving, contact Peter Robertson at probertson@csufresno.edu. Those interested in donating toward the Nathan Ray Memorial Scholarship can visit http://bit.ly/FSAASupport