By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
6,000 pieces later, Monroe resident completes puzzle
Raymond Bratzke cracks a smile while sitting in front of a recently completed 6,000-piece puzzle he worked on over two winters inside his home in Monroe. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - It took him two winters hunched over a table in his basement, but he finished a 6,000-piece puzzle.

"It took me two days just to flip over all the pieces," Raymond Bratzke said.

Raymond, or Ray, said he has been working on puzzles ever since he retired in 1982. He and his wife Helen have lived in Monroe since 1967, where they built their home. Ray worked at an assembling factory for General Motors in Janesville for 30 years before retiring. Multiple puzzles hang on the walls of his basement.

The 6,000-piece jigsaw is the biggest, but it isn't Ray's favorite. His favorite is near the bottom of a pile of other puzzles he recently finished. It's a picture of a farm all snowed in, with big, bright red buildings that stand out against the white snow.

"I grew up on a farm, so I like doing farm pictures," he said.

Ray grew up on a farm north of Orfordville. He has arthritis, and he recently fractured two vertebrae in his spine, so getting around isn't so easy. He labored down the stairs Thursday into his spacious basement - happy to talk about how much he loves puzzles.

"I had never really finished a puzzle until I retired," he said. "I don't want help; if somebody puts down a piece they think fits, I can really tell if it don't fit."

Ray's wife Helen said her niece gives them puzzles as gifts every Christmas, and the couple rarely buys their own. Helen doesn't join Ray in putting the puzzles together, but she adds her own flair. A puzzle with a view of New York's World Trade Center hangs in the corner, but one of the Twin Towers has a flashy decal. A General Motors sticker covers one the blank spots in the puzzle.

"GM's got nothing to do with it, but it covers up the hole," Ray said.

Another puzzle displaying a scenic lake has a tiny sticker of a fisherman in a boat placed over a missing piece - another example of Helen's handiwork.

"I don't think I've put in one piece on any of these," she said.

Ray works all winter at his puzzles, and he used to golf during the summers. Helen said he spends nearly his whole day working on puzzles.

"I have to call him up for meals," Helen said. "Then I go back down," Ray said, finishing her sentence.

Ray has no intent of stopping since he gets so many puzzles as gifts.

"I might just have to retire twice with so many puzzles," he said.