On July 15, 2020, at the age of ninety four, an extraordinary man died. He wasn’t a flashy kind of extraordinary. He was kind. He was thoughtful. He had vision and insight. In short, he was the kind of man who made humanity better. His name was Edmund “Jerry” G. Wermund.
I came to know him because I joined a critique group for writers of children’s books many years ago and there he was, writing poetry about rocks and earthscapes for kids. They were uncomplicated gems. Jerry had studied land formations as a geologist for decades. Retired, he wanted to write about them. The poetry poured out of him. They didn’t pedantically explain earth formations. No, they hinted at their mystery so kids might be inspired to learn more. Here is one:
Drown a glacial
valley flowing to the sea
you get a fjord
He sent batches of poems to editors in New York. He pitched them to editors at conferences. No one could see what he saw. No one believed that these poems had a market with children, teachers or librarians. No one saw, like he did, how to make earth science come alive for children.
Eventually, Jerry self-published his books. Four, in total. When they arrived on a pallet from China, he wasn’t content to let them sit in his garage. Nope, Jerry loaded them into a U-Haul and drove all over the United States, to schools and libraries. That’s right. After a full career as a geologist, he began his career as an author in his sixties and kept at it well into his seventies and eighties. Whenever I saw him, he said he was having the time of his life.
In July 15, 2021, a year after his death, his son gathered us together for a memorial at the Zilker Clubhouse overlooking the city Jerry loved. It was a stunningly beautiful day. Several people spoke. A colleague. His son. Two great nephews. Kathi Appelt who read his first stories. A bridge partner from the senior residence. Each one gave shape and substance to this kind man’s life.
Sometimes, I despair about dying. Rather, I despair about not having done something significant in my life, something that will matter after I am gone. And then I think about all the people who have touched my life and shaped me. It didn’t matter if they were globally famous or not. What mattered was the story we created by knowing each other.
He lives in me. His sincerity. His kindness. His yes to life. His love of nature. He nudged the clay that is me and made me a better person. Forever.
The band of people touched by Jerry
(Frances Yansky, Kathi Appelt, Meredith Davis, Julie Lake, Mark Mitchell, Lindsey Lane, Chris Barton, Cynthia Levinson, Jane Peddichord, Brian Yansky).