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Ron Derring

A Personal Remembrance


(I persuaded Ron to have this portrait made for the Reunion Summary.)

In high school, I was in the process of building a reflecting telescope and needed a tripod. I knew Ron only slightly, but he said he could build one for me in shop. I paid for the materials, and he did a great job, including a gleaming varnish finish.

Unfortunately, after many hours of grinding and polishing one 6" Pyrex disc against another, the curve wasn't what it was supposed to be, and there were few resources to consult near a small town in upstate New York. I even sent a letter to Cornell, which had an observatory, but nobody there had any experience with grinding a telescope mirror. So my contribution was not able to match his fine work.

During my senior year, 1958, the factory in our town, General Products, decided to set up an R&D lab, mainly involved with capacitor refinement but also the development of other products. They hired two electrical engineers, one of whom came to the school to ask the electrical shop teacher (Mr. Boomer) if he had a student to recommend as a technician. In such a small school everybody knew everybody (and fortunately the Boomers and my parents were friends) and he recommended me instead.

Of course, it was only for the summer, since I was going to college in the fall, but it was a cool job. In fact, speaking of cool, once I was asked to drive into Syracuse to pick up some dry ice – using one of the engineers' Jaguar! One of the things we were doing was life tests on potential new capacitors and although they had an oven to test them at higher temperatures they needed dry ice for cold testing. Fortunately, in those days, Driver Ed was taught in stick-shift cars.

As the end of the summer approached, they interviewed prospective replacements for me. I don't think I saw any of the interviewees when they came in, but they later asked my opinion of two of them. The first was a real electronics nut – he even ran a low-power radio station. However, I found him to be fairly obnoxious, sometimes even nasty. The other was Ron. I said that the first guy was highly qualified but Ron was a much nicer guy and I was sure he could do the kinds of things I'd been doing.

Ron later told me he was really surprised to find out that he'd gotten the job when he found out who was also being considered. And after his summer of hauling logs for telephone poles for the phone company he was really glad to get it!

I often wondered what had happened to him after that, but he wasn't at any of the reunions I attended, until the 40th. When we went to get a drink, the bartender said they were compliments of an anonymous classmate, a millionaire. When I saw Ron I asked about what had happened to him over the intervening years. I found out that he'd done well on the job; in fact after a while being promoted to head of the capacitor manufacturing department. He said that when they told him about the salary and the office, he considered it for about five seconds! And eventually he rose to be purchasing agent for the whole company, which was now part of TRW.

He also had invested well and had gone in with a couple of partners in adult homes, beginning in 1973. They made a pile of money selling some of them, and they still had one bringing in plenty – so he was our benefactor!

For the 50th reunion, as president of the senior class I was asked to be MC at the dinner. I recalled that previously we had taken turns recounting what we'd each been doing since graduation. Even though we were a small class, and the number of attendees was smaller yet, it still took quite a bit of time, so this time I sent out questionnaires to compile and send out biographical information before the reunion. It took a surprising amount of time and effort to coax information out of some (one [Bobby Joyce] originally wrote: "Navy, Auburn Community College, sales, sales, more sales."). Ron was also reticent, because he was a two-fingered typist, he said. He was one I eventually called and found many fascinating details to add to his bio.

We had made reservations for two nights at a B&B not far from the Springside Inn, site of our reunion dinner, but when Ron heard that he invited us to stay with him at his cottage on the east side of Owasco Lake instead. We came up early, stayed a week, and he had more activities planned for us during the non-reunion days (reunion events were Saturday and Sunday), than we could handle. He enjoyed the reunion dinner so much that he changed his mind and came to the picnic the next day at Frontenac Park. We also found out that his "cottage" had five bedrooms plus a separate apartment, which he offered to us.

During our time with him we also learned of other of his interests. He's a hunter, as you may have noticed in his bio, and during some of his forays he came across the remains of old dumps that most houses used to have behind them, long before the days of trash collection. He noticed some interesting jars and bottles and started taking along a trowel and a trash bag. He'd take them home, clean them up, consult books, and over time he became expert about which ones were rare. He kept those that interested him and sold others on eBay.

One day at an auction he got an old map which covered at least the part of Cayuga County where he hunted that included the location of houses at the time. He took photographs of it and current topographical maps of the same area and had them enlarged to the same scale to see how he might get access to their dumps. He was very thorough, and he did it for years. This was in his spare time, quite a while ago; before he retired. Like a curator, he described the treasures in his collection to us.

He also scanned the newspaper for garage sale items of interest. Once he bought a snow blower identical to one he already owned, in case he needed spare parts, and after bargaining down the price got the seller to deliver it in his own truck. However, he had a complete wood and machine shop in his garage, so he could repair almost anything, even fabricating new parts if necessary. One time he saw a cabinet along the road that he thought his daughter could use to store her artist supplies, and he talked the seller down from ten to three dollars.

He obviously had the type of smarts that weren't evident from his grades (his average was 80.5). However, we found out during our stay that earlier he had done very well academically, but when he got old enough his father "did him the favor" of getting him a job as pin boy (remember those?) at an Auburn bowling alley. So then he was up until late, had little time to do homework, was still tired when he had to get up early to take the long school bus ride to Union Springs the next morning, and his grades plummeted.

What a shame that was, but I was particularly glad that something I did for a really nice guy turned out so well.

Jack

© Copyright 2012 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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