Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Light A Penny Candle From a Star

David Joseph DeMarle
December 9, 1929—November 30, 2013

Flying back home from El Salvador, I had the dreaded center seat but there came a moment when I could briefly look out the window. Before me I saw a beautiful field of clouds and without thinking twice I looked for my Dad. If anyone could walk on frozen water crystals it would be our Dad. He was amazingly brilliant.
Growing up in our home there was a continuous series of experiments in the basement, garage, office, and—sometimes to Mom’s disconcert—the kitchen table. As a child he had done the same to his mother—to the point of blowing up a small island in a marsh on his way to becoming a chemist. By the time we came along there were: the film series with all his siblings and their spouses playing supporting roles and Mom the lead; the social commentary painting series; the unique candle making experiments; the great sour cream exploration; the frozen ice milk calorie-free shakes; various experiments with 3D pictures and films; and of course the NASA grant applications on building space stations with ice. Is it any wonder my sister Mary has become a writer of futuristic video games or that Theresa always has a new project?

Dad’s ideas brought him around the world—South Africa, Europe, and North America—giving papers and presentations at conferences, universities and even to Arab princes. His work was published (examples: Training at RIT , The Use of Value Engineering Methodology in Forecasting Future Technology), he held patents, and published a key book on Value Analysis and Value Engineering: “Value: Its Measurement, Design, and Management”. He was a man steps ahead—with some of his wisdom recognized only when the rest of the world caught up. No one shall ever forget the icebergs! (Design parameters for a South African iceberg power and water project ). He foresaw the global need for fresh water and in the last ten years the towing of icebergs for that purpose has become a reality. Dad always had a question and was always finding possibilities. One of his great gifts to the world was a core belief and approach to Creativity.

He was a true scientist, an unpretentious and generous man, who opened the world of ideas for all of us, his Kodak colleagues, his RIT students, his friends and family, and of course his beloved wife and his 8 children: Joan, Theresa, Steve, Dan, Mary, Bob, Dave, and myself. After a long day at work, we would all charge the door as soon as we heard the car. Mom would say “don’t bother your father he has had a long day” but despite the warning Dad would energetically join us in the front yard for a game of “Pretend you are a butterfly or now you are a hot dog”; or on the ice rink where we could skate between his strong legs; or when evening fell in front of the fireplace on the couch snuggled around him as he read to us.
Somewhere in-between all of this Dad was designing and building various ice rinks and pools until each was perfected: the pond which filled with water just in time for winter play; a childhood playhouse that became an ice house, and then a greenhouse filled with end of season clearance plants from Wegman’s; the pool which he swam daily in the warmer months and then extended its season in numerous ingenious ways; usually having to do with bubble plastic (which you can imagine we loved as kids) and the garden with an overabundance of tomatoes, eggplant, corn, asparagus, and of course the grapes and pear tree. I remember as a little girl following him around as he gardened learning to count out a row and eat freshly picked corn. All of this Dad tended with his not-so-trusty Gravely: a machine which has lasted 40+ years but only due to his constant trips to the dealer for parts and lengthy home repairs. We will all remember the sight of Dad bundled in knit hat, scarf, coat and his ever so large boots plowing out the driveway. I am sure he could afford a service but instead I believe he simply loved being outside. A love my brother Steve definitely has inherited.
Our home and yard were his vast lab and he loved nothing more than to be outdoors. It was more than a property—it was a place to support a growing family, and to invite in friends and neighbors. It was the way he loved life and the way he loved us. One of my favorite memories of the last two years was my Dad outside in the yard and in the garage with his eldest grandson Ben—they were like twin brothers of different generations. Dad loved listening to Ben’s ideas and plans and sharing in turn his own love of space, science, and engineering. That is how Dad taught us all—as loving mentor and friendly guide. I can see it reflected in my sister Joan's gift as an educator. Likewise when I see my brothers Dan, Bob and David with their children I see my Dad in their steps and playful approach. My heart expands knowing his lessons took.

Growing up it felt as if my siblings and myself were part of a grand 1950’s Kennedy family movie. For we belonged to an even larger extended DeMarle clan with Aunt Ginny, and Uncles Jack, Jim, and Bill. Dad was the baby of the group—“Baby Davey” as Aunt Ginny would teasingly call him despite his height.

Having lost their dad when Dad was twelve and then raised solely by our Grandma, they were a tight knit bunch with a true joy of life—they valued being together—singing, poking fun, playing baseball, camping in the Adirondacks, card playing, and had a love for each other despite their differences. These characteristics they passed on to our generation inspiring us to keep connected. Dad loved each of you his nieces and nephews in a very special way, as the youngest child, you became his first “children”. He delighted in your accomplishments and in your calls, cards, and company – and even had the opportunity to be your colleague at Kodak—enjoying showing you the ropes.

But the true love of his life was our Mom. A book could never contain enough pages to describe the power of their love. It was their Catholic faith that brought them together and has bound them for an eternity. Like Prince Charming and Cinderella, Dad saw Mom across a crowded room and simply had to be introduced. Married within a half a year, Mom’s family became his and a deep friendship with my Uncle Lou and Aunt Mary Jo continues to this day. Together Dad and Mom raised our family, sent us each to college, cared for my Grandmother when she had dementia, were there for those they loved, traveled, and were active members of this church, Saint Lawrence. They delightedly welcomed in our spouses & their families, Jim, Jim, Joanne, Tammy and Patti, as if they were their own sons and daughters. Even their parents became part of our family celebrations.
Dad and Mom were especially proud of you, their grandchildren, Elizabeth, Tegan, Ben, Tyler, Kate, Julia, Margo, Chris, Becca, Maggie, Dorie and Josie. You were each very special to them and nothing would light them up more than being with you. They drove near and far to attend your christenings, first communions, school plays, sports events, and graduations or simply to care for each of you when they were needed most. And they will continue to do this from their shiny new home in heaven.
In Rochester their door was always open for a grand gathering around the swimming pool or the kitchen table. Dad delighted in our family camping trips—especially when Jim Oberlin took over all the morning cooking. But I think Dad especially loved the evenings around the campfires where we sang all his old favorites from his college days and those of his mother from Ireland and he in his beautiful Irish tenure, “Oh she’s too fat, much too fat oh too fat for me…” or “Oh the strangers came and tried to show us their way, they cursed us just for being what we are, but they might as well go chasing after moon beams or light a penny candle from a star.”

I think though the greatest story of Dad’s life was his deep love of Mom. It has been sooo beautifully expressed these last 8 years when Mom was ill. Mom had always been the preeminent caregiver but now their roles reversed. In the way only an engineer could, Dad first investigated every possible cure and treatment, he religiously got Mom to her weekly appointments, recorded all her vital signs, and took on the enormous task of tracking and managing her medications. He became the Wegman’s shopper, meal provider, and laundry person. Although Dad’s vigilance could sometimes exasperate Mom, I can still hear her saying “David!”, separate doctors’ told Dan and I that she had stayed alive for our Dad. Perhaps one of the most difficult nights of my life was during the sabbatical year when Jim and I lived with them. Dad came to me panicked saying, “ I think your mother is dead.” Together we went upstairs. My words can’t adequately capture his joy when after I checked her breathing, we could see she was simply sleeping. When any of us would visit the doctors with them in the last few years, the doctors, nurses and staff would all make a point to come out to greet them, and I have heard many, many times “I wish I could have a love as great as theirs”.

Today we have lost a great man, a true gentle—man, a shining heart, a light that has made the world a better place. When I looked out at the clouds on my flight home, I simply was not looking up far enough—up to the stars. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery, expressed in the book  “The Little Prince”
 “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars are laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You—only you—will have stars that laugh!”
Dad it’s our turn now to tow icebergs for you. I hope we can each follow your very large footsteps closely enough to the stars. But I know as sure as we are gathered here to celebrate your life, when you first arrived in heaven, with that twinkle in your eyes, you said to your wonderful loved ones gathered there to greet you, “I got you last”.

*As a side note, at Dad's funeral Mass, the priest spoke of our Dad, and talked about his three focuses: our family, his work and his faith. He had spoken with Dad's old friend Joe Van der Valk, now in his nineties. Joe had said to him of our father, that he was "the best of the best". As his children, we couldn't agree more. And as a family we can't believe how blessed we have been to have two extraordnary parents. Thank you Dad & Mom! Miss you both profoundly.

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