By Don Sanford
Our good friend Don Ermer passed away on Thursday morning, December 13, 2007 at Hospice Care in Madison after a struggle with cancer.
I don't really know when Don learned to sail, but it was probably when he was in Madison as an undergrad at the UW in the late 1950s. He often told me that Jim Henkel was his first sailing instructor at Hoofers.
I started sailing with Don in 1977 when he replaced his wooden E-boat (H 40) with a new Johnson glass boat. That was the first in a series of three glass E's, all named Pursuit, that he owned. Don steered, I trimmed chute, ran the boards and called tactics. Initially, my wife Barb came some expert foredeck men like Lyle Bracker and Ron Antonelli joined us. Don loved the E and often described E-boats as "the best ride in the world." During the years of that E-boat program, Don became legendary for his exploits on the lake. Initially, we raced three days a week. We went out no matter what the conditions were-drifters or blowing like stink. It didn't matter. Staying at the pier was unthinkable. And retiring for anything other than a catastrophic breakdown or capsize was equally unthinkable. Our occasional guests as fourth included a collection of relatives, friends, neighbors, his students and a former Madison mayor.
In the dead of winter in 2001, Don and Bill Minardi made a fateful trip to Sturgeon Bay to look at White Squall, an Ultimate 20, buried deep in a snow bank. Eventually, she made her way to Madison where we've raced her to gradually improving levels of performance in the MYC Cruiser Division II series. Though we all loved the E, Team Ermer found it's calling in the U 20. We've brought home more bullets and various pieces of hardware in the last few seasons with White Squall than we ever managed to do with the E-boat.
Don was truly a passionate sailor. In addition to the E-boat and U-20, there were a couple of windsurfers under the front porch or a Laser on the lift. A few years ago, when Phyllis wisely called a halt to windsurfing, he picked up an MC for afternoon solo sails. On Sunday afternoons, he'd usually drift over to Burrows scouting for a ride on an A-boat. And, when none of those would do, he could be found at Hoofers looking for a ride on Soma, my boat Moonglow or with anyone else who puIled up and appeared to have room in the cockpit and time for a ride. And, of course, in the wintertime Don turned his attentions to iceboating and 4LIYC.
Don retired in 2002 from the UW ME and IE Departments, where he was Proctor and Gamble Professor in Total Quality. He was quick to admit that he "flunked retirement," as his interest in mentoring students and their projects always drew him back to his office on campus or a meeting at the Terrace. Don had a gift of conversation and an engaging smile. Many of our crew members came from the ranks of his students or the men and women he'd meet at a party or on campus.
Don is survived by his wife Phyllis; daughter Ellen and her children; son Eric (Gayle) and their children; brother Kenneth (Becky); and sister-in-law Carla (Joseph) Moha. Memorials, in lieu of flowers, may be directed to the Treasury of Love Fund, Advent Lutheran Church; Habitat for Humanity of Madison; UW Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Building Fund; or a charity of your choice. --Don Sanford