Raphael J. Christman “Raphie”, 93, of Tony, passed away on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 at Marshfield Medical Center-Ladysmith. He was born to John Alvin and Celia (Hendricks) Christman in their home in the town of Dewey on the 26th of July, 1927. He attended school in Tony through the 10th grade and spent more time out of school than in -- as he was needed at home to work. It is on that farm that he developed a lifelong love of animals and the value of hard work.
His life would change forever though when one evening he walked into Kush’s Dance Hall where Helen Kush was working the door and waived his 75-cent entrance fee and pinned him with a blue ribbon so he could gain entrance. They were married June 7, 1947, at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Tony where they would attend mass regularly. After honeymooning in Duluth, they spent the next 17 years on the Christman farm on County Road X, just outside of Tony. It was here that their two children were born and where Raphie earned a reputation for growing tremendous fields of corn. He was rumored to be among the first in the county with a cow to produce 100 pounds of milk per day.
In 1963, he and Helen sold the family farm and bought a wholesale beer distributorship which became Christman Distributing. With Helen as bookkeeper and Raphie as promoter they took what had been a market previously dominated by Walter’s Beer and transformed it into Grain Belt country. Raphie would do anything to make this happen from driving by farmers working in a hot field and offering them a case of beer to cool down with before finishing the job to going into a bar and buying everyone a round. And though he was often reminded by the head of accounting to reign in the promotions, he always said “You’ve gotta spend money to make money.” By 1968 they were one of Grain Belt’s top distributors. They sold the business to his brother Abe in 1971, but bought it back again in 1977 and sold it for the last time in late 1980.
Many people remember Raphie as a jack of all trades but whatever job he put himself to, he set the pace of the work. For a time, he worked with Fred Kostick felling timber. Raphie once won a bid for a stand of timber in Barron County after taking his father there to help determine the number of board feet that could be generated by the stand. People remember the work he did with Dale Lambert digging septic systems. As part of that work they put in the water and sewer system for the village of Tony. And while they did most of their work in Rusk County, one year they put in more sewage systems than anyone else in Chippewa County even though they were only a two-man team. He did many jobs with and for Phil Fliflet including putting in 17 acres of black walnut trees and watering that 17 acres by hand to keep the trees alive. He was also an owner/operator of an apartment building.
His grandchildren remember him as the one who played with them, sometimes acting like a bear chasing them and wrestling with them. He taught them to fish and nurtured that love of fishing with day trips on the Flambeau River and fishing trips to Canada.
In his 93 years, Raphael Christman touched the lives of many and will be forgotten by few. For those in whose memory he will live, Raphie (Pa and Grandpa) will be missed, loved, and held in honor.
A Memorial Mass of Christian Burial was held on Thursday, Oct. 22, at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Tony with Father Papi Reddy Yeruva and Deacon Craig Voldberg officiating.
Burial was in the church cemetery in Tony.
Nash-Jackan Funeral Home assisted with the arrangements.