- Courtesy Photo
- Roy Neuer
Roy Neuer, formerly of South Burlington, Vt., died on Monday, December 27, 2021, with his wife, Shirley Wolfe, by his bedside at Birchwood Rehab and Healthcare in Burlington, Vt. He was 85 years old.
Roy had been receiving skilled and dedicated medical care for a month from the University of Vermont Home Health & Hospice medical staff. We give our special thanks to Matt Lieb, LPN, who was very attentive to Roy's needs and communicated so well with family members.
Roy was born in New York, N.Y., on May 2, 1936, to Hilda (Knipp) Neuer and Jacob Neuer. Both parents immigrated to the United States during the 1920s from separate areas of Germany, following their siblings who had arrived earlier. Parents and other siblings remained in Germany. Roy was very fortunate to have two very kind, loving, generous and hardworking parents, as well as caring aunts and uncles in the New York City area.
Roy Neuer lived a full, vibrant and interesting life. In a short biography that Roy wrote, covering the 1940s until 1961, he stated that during the 1940s, he and his friends enjoyed New York City, playing on the streets and in Central and Riverside parks and exploring the American Museum of Natural History. He joined an active Boy Scouts troop, which introduced him to the outdoors with hiking and camping trips in New Jersey and the Ramapo Mountains of New York. He learned to roller skate and horseback ride in the city. Roy spent some summer vacations with his aunt and uncle near Freehold, N.J., where he explored the woods.
His parents considered the U.S. their home and did not often speak German, but being surrounded with a German-speaking family, he heard enough of the language to become proficient in pronunciation of the German language. When he studied German in high school and college, that background was helpful. During European travels, many Europeans complimented him on his proficiency in speaking German.
In 1950, he moved with his parents to Glenford, N.Y., so that his father could secure a job at Rotron Manufacturing Company near Woodstock, N.Y. In that area, Roy learned to hunt and fish and started to learn to ski at Belleayre in the Catskill Mountains. He attended Kingston High School, where he began studying the German language and culture, but spent his senior year at the new Onteora Central School in Boiceville, N.Y., where he developed a strong interest in science and math.
With the encouragement of his math teacher, Roy attended Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., where he enrolled in a five-year mechanical engineering and liberal arts program. The engineering education provided him with the basic skills for his career work. The arts program opened up the joys of history, literature and world culture for him. He was a member of the Air Force ROTC and a flying club, managing to solo their Piper Cub airplane. His son now has Roy's pilot's log.
At the end of his third year of college, he and three other Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity brothers took a year off. Roy worked for six months as a draftsman at O'Brien & Gere in Syracuse, N.Y., living frugally and saving money for his trip to Europe. In January 1958, Roy and two of the young men departed from NYC on a freighter, an old American Liberty ship, for a 19-day voyage across the stormy North Atlantic Ocean to Genoa, Italy. The fourth student met them there, and they started hitchhiking to Innsbruck, Austria. As it turned out, they had different interests and shortly went different ways, occasionally hearing about one another at youth hostels.
Roy stayed in Austria, learning to downhill ski at Ober-Gurgle and Zell am See. He went on to Germany, bought a NSU Lambretta motor scooter, and then visited with aunts, uncles and cousins in the Odenwald area west of Heidelberg, where his dad grew up, and the Ruhrgebiet area near Dortmund, where his mother grew up. His German courses allowed him to converse freely with his German relatives. Roy and his NYC childhood friend Klaus, who had returned to West Germany, visited Paris together.
After a brief time in Yugoslavia, Roy and his Union College friend Art reunited and traveled together through Italy and Spain before parting ways again. Roy rode through France and Switzerland, returning to the U.S. in August 1958 by passenger ship from La Havre, France, to NYC via Québec, Canada. Roy wrote that the highlights of that trip were meeting his German relatives, getting a good start on downhill skiing and being exposed to our European cultural heritage. He stated that it also instilled a significant level of self-confidence with respect to travel.
Roy returned to Union College for two more years. He dropped out of ROTC because the Air Force enlistment requirement had changed. In the summer of 1959, he returned to Germany. As an alternative to a required summer shop course, Union College allowed him to participate in a program at WMF, a metal and glassware manufacturing company, in Geislingen an der Steige, Germany, as a "practikant." He worked with students from England, Egypt, Sweden, Finland and Germany. Again, he visited German relatives and his friend Klaus. The company arranged a trip to Berlin, where Roy traveled through CheckPoint Charlie in West Berlin into East Berlin and where he found the contrast between the two sections of Berlin to be dramatic and impressive. This was two years before the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961.
In 1960, Roy graduated from Union College with two degrees: bachelor of mechanical engineering and bachelor of arts. After graduation, he accepted a job with the General Electric Co. as a mechanical engineer in its engineering and science program. He worked at the Blanket and Fan Department in Bridgeport, Conn., and then the Small Engine Department in Lynn, Mass., working on the T-64 jet engine combustors. In January 1961, he came to the GE Armament Department in Burlington, Vt., for a permanent job as a mechanical design engineer.
During the next few years, colleagues at GE introduced Roy to sailing on Lake Champlain, to his first wife and to Vermont downhill ski areas.
From 1964 to 1976, Roy was married to Ann L. Smith of Long Island, N.Y. They adopted two children, David and Diane.
Ann and Roy became members of the Malletts Bay Boat Club of Colchester, Vt., and part of the fleet of original STAR boat owners who raced their boats in Malletts Bay, Lake George and Lake Sunapee from 1966 to 1972. It was a close-knit group, many of whose members remain in contact to this day. According to his 2006 sailing résumé, during this time period he was a member of the United States Power Squadron and an instructor for seamanship, advanced piloting and junior navigation courses. He completed courses on engine maintenance and weather. During the 1970s, Roy became a charter member of the Laser Association Fleet No. 71. He raced his Laser boat from 1973 to 1995. He believed that the best way to learn to sail was to do it with small boats, closer to the wind and water. Over the decades, he crewed on other sailboats and overnight races on Lake Champlain. He and friends sailed five charter trips along the Atlantic coast and coastal Maine, six in the Caribbean, and one in the Greek Islands of the Mediterranean. For over 10 years, starting in 2001, he co-owned a Tartan 30 with his good friend Steve Silverman. Before he died, he said his favorite place to sail was in the West Indies of the Caribbean Sea. He enjoyed the warm waters for snorkeling. Roy became a skilled sailor who loved rough water but put safety first.
After his divorce from Ann, they remained friends, spending many holidays and birthdays together with their children and others. He opened up his Burlington home to his friend Neal and son for a few years. In the 1970s, The Burlington Free Press printed an article about the two single fathers and their children. Their babysitter Karen lived with them during her senior year at Burlington High School, since her parents moved out of state with IBM. He participated in gardening workshops, which led to years of vegetable and flower gardening. During the late 1970s, he joined the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, Vt., eventually becoming very active on the Property Committee and in the renovation of the building in the late 1980s.
Roy loved downhill skiing more than any other outdoor activity. When he was introduced to Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vt., in the 1960s, he loved the area and soon joined the MRG volunteer ski patrol. He was a patroller there for 50 years until 2017. He enjoyed numerous skiing trips to western ski areas with his friends, including the No Whiners, a group of Canadian men and two American men that his friend Gib introduced him to. According to Roy, there was nothing quite like skiing MRG, enjoying the camaraderie of the ski patrol and continually updating first aid skills through their annual refresher courses. In fact, he always had a first aid kit in his car, bike bag, his wife's bike bag and car, in the home, etc.
In January 1983, Roy married Shirley Wolfe in the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington. They enjoyed a vibrant and loving marriage until his death. Combining two families has its challenges, and we had ours. Still, as a family, we had many memorable times, including camping and vacations in Maine, Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod and Disney World. In 1984, Roy and Shirley with their individual daughters, Diane and Tonya, drove across the U.S. in a used VW Vanagon, camping most of the way. David had previously traveled across the country with Neal and his son.
- Courtesy Photo
- Roy sailing in the Virgin Islands in 1987
Roy was an enthusiastic, confident traveler, which helped him and Shirley enjoy many domestic and foreign trips. He introduced Shirley to his remaining German cousins, to his childhood friend Klaus and to several former Union College friends who lived in Germany and Sweden. Among their travels, they enjoyed trips to Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Spain, some western U.S. hiking trips, several Caribbean sailing trips in the 1980s and 1990s, and an adventurous 1989 sailing trip among the Greek islands with their friends Mary and Steve Silverman, along with two of the Silverman's teenage children. From 2003 to 2014, they enjoyed 10 bicycle group trips in nine European countries and one in Denmark.
In 1996, when he was 60 years old, Roy began the first of five trips trekking with the Explorers Network, owned and operated by his friend Frank Gibney. The first trip in Nepal was one of the highlights of his life, with a collegial group of trekkers and climbers in the Mount Everest region. He loved meeting the Nepalese people, the culture and the landscape. The following year, he was thrilled to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania at more than 19,000 feet. In 1998, in Peru, after the trek, they visited a small rural school to donate items. The entire town turned out and provided a guinea pig lunch with dancing afterward, all of which Roy loved. The final two trips were in Ecuador and Bolivia. Roy simply loved mountains, different cultures and different experiences.
During the 1990s, GE Armaments Burlington merged with Martin Marietta, which merged with Lockheed Martin; finally, General Dynamics purchased part of the business. Roy retired from General Dynamics in 1999. Within a few months, he hiked with friends and colleagues and then started bicycling with a group of former GE colleagues, who called themselves the Silver Spokes. He and, later, Shirley enjoyed bicycling with this collegial and energetic group in Vermont, New York and Canada.
From 2010 to 2015, Roy had major heart surgery, two hip replacement surgeries and a double knee replacement surgery. He actually followed doctors' orders and recovered well from all of them, continuing with all his activities. After Roy's heart surgery, his friend Rick Hubbard often drove him to the German conversation group which they participated in at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. Rick was a member of the South Burlington Bicycle Pedestrian Committee and suggested that Roy apply for an open position, which Roy did. He served for eight years with dedication and great interest in the bicycle pedestrian infrastructure in Chittenden County.
In July 2017, our lives changed dramatically after Roy was injured in a bicycle/truck accident in Québec, just across the Highgate border crossing. He received excellent treatment at two Canadian hospitals, first in St. Jean Sur Richelieu and then eight days in McGill Hospital's ICU in Montréal, where he was kept in an induced coma with excellent care from a neurosurgeon, a trauma surgeon and their staff. After he was transported back to the Burlington, Vt., medical center for 12 days, Roy then had several intensive weeks of rehabilitation at the Fanny Allen Rehab Facility in Colchester, Vt., and two weeks in sub-acute rehab at Burlington Health & Rehab. He recovered amazingly well from his traumatic brain injury. Unfortunately, he had a major cerebral ischemic stroke in March 2018, which left him with an immobile, sensitive left arm; left leg mobility problems; and a few mental challenges.
Until 2021, as a testament to Roy's resilient, optimistic nature, he never gave up working on walking and actively using his brain, in spite of some deficits left from both traumatic incidents. He lived at the Residence at Quarry Hill for 19 months, from August 2018 until March 2020. While there, he actively participated in his physical therapy, walking with assistance and many of the activities offered at that facility. Friends and family could visit freely and stay overnight in his apartment. When he suffered severe back pain in March 2020, he went to the University of Vermont Medical Center main campus, where his stay was cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With intravenous antibiotics, he was sent to Birchwood Rehab facility. There, along with others, he contracted a mild case of COVID-19 and was sent back to the medical center because of the intravenous antibiotics needed. After two weeks, he went to the alternative health care site operated by the Vermont National Guard at the fairgrounds in Essex Junction, Vt. At that site, he received exceptional attention and care until, after a few weeks, he tested negative for COVID-19. He had a brief return to Quarry Hill and, unfortunately, a return of severe back pain. After a week at the UVM Medical Center, he returned to Birchwood Rehab in Burlington.
Because of a number of health issues, Roy spent the next 18 months as a long-term-care resident there. It was a difficult time for Roy, as well as other residents in these facilities. They were quarantined and isolated in their rooms numerous times as the medical, federal, state and local communities struggled to understand the ramifications of the pandemic. The absence of physical contact with friends and loved ones was difficult. Because of Roy's longtime hearing issues and brain processing challenges, he needed people to speak directly to him, slowly and clearly. It was helpful if he could see the speaker's lips. Masks definitely made his hearing and understanding difficult. Unfortunately, his hearing aids were damaged and/or lost several times, so he struggled to understand what was going on and what people were saying to him. After Shirley bought a small microphone that was synchronized to his hearing aids by his audiologist, it was easier for us to communicate when we were allowed to be together. It was also a difficult time for staff in these facilities, who were concerned about their own health safety as well as that of the residents they cared for.
Thankfully, the Zoom computer program became widely available and we could have Zoom sessions once a week with staff assistance and a pair of headphones for Roy. Gradually, as he was allowed to go to outside appointments and we could begin physical contact, things improved for him. Still, it became obvious that he was adversely impacted by the loss of the ability to do the activities he enjoyed and that he was allowed only brief times when he could be with family and friends. There were only two times in his life when Roy fell into low spirits. One was in 1997 when his beloved daughter, Diane, died from complications of type 2 diabetes. The other was during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021, as was described earlier.
Fortunately, during the summer of 2021, Birchwood had a huge tent behind its building where we could have some longer visits outside. He was very happy to visit with his son David and three grandchildren from Pittsburgh, Pa., in August 2021. The following month, he had a happy visit with Shirley's daughter, Tonya Oesterle, her husband, and adult children from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In November, the Oesterles returned for a visit in his Birchwood room, and then David came for three weeks in December.
Although Roy's mind worked in an orderly way, he had no need for order around him. If you traveled in his car, you would have to clean off the seat from food wrappers, papers or other items. It was best to carry a towel to sit on if you had good clothes on. His computer room was chock-full of files and stuff on the floor. He considered dust and dirt to be part of the natural order of things and not anything to be concerned about, unless it was garden dirt, which needed good compost. And Roy loved spontaneity. On the other hand, he did beautiful calligraphy, wrapped gifts beautifully and disguised them in unrelated containers, perhaps with a brick inside to make the package much heavier so it fooled the recipient's expectations. He folded towels and clothing neatly and stored them neatly. Like most of us, he was a person of contrasts.
Although Roy would tell interesting and amusing stories about his travels and adventures, he did not boast about them. He came from a humble family, of which he was very proud. He considered it a great privilege to get his college education at Union College, a place he loved and returned to frequently. He thought he was privileged to work in a career he liked with interesting colleagues and to participate in so many activities and travels that he enjoyed.
Roy was a lifelong learner, resilient, optimistic, easygoing, adventuresome and an emotionally stable man who very seldom complained about things. He looked at situations as possible problems to solve and/or to appreciate. He occasionally could be blunt, play devil's advocate or be a little stubborn. After his traumatic brain injury and stroke, the neurosurgeon and a neurologist explained that certain personality characteristics might become more pronounced.
True to form, dates and time became even more unimportant to Roy. Fortunately, his basic nature stayed with him. He remained kind, generous and loving. Friends and colleagues have recently said he was professional but a serious competitor, dedicated, reliable, engaging, inquisitive, a joyous skier and a warm human being with a wry sense of humor. One person wrote to Roy's wife, "He had a way of making you know that he cared about you and was glad to see you."
Roy is survived by his beloved family: his wife, Shirley Wolfe, of South Burlington, Vt.; his son, David Neuer, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Shirley's daughter, Tonya Oesterle, and her husband, Dwight Oesterle, of Milford, N.H.; his grandchildren (who knew him as Opa or Opa Roy), Asa, Beck and Emi Neuer of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Nathan Oesterle and his fiancée, Gracie Hannabach, of Westford, Mass.; and Jessica Oesterle of Milford, N.H. He is also survived by a special former daughter-in law, Lynn Harper, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and a special sister-in-law, Shirley's sister, Linda Dehart, of Chambersburg, Pa.
He was predeceased by his parents; his daughter, Diane, in 1997; and his former wife, Ann Neuer, in 2020; as well as numerous relatives in the U.S. and Germany.
As his wife, I kept numerous notebooks from July 18, 2017, when he had his bicycle accident, until his death. In reviewing them, I am amazed by what he endured. I am also amazed by how many and varied medical staff, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists worked with him. We are so grateful for all their work to keep Roy able to enjoy life as much as possible.
During the early days of Roy's recoveries from the TBI and the stroke, many friends visited, brought food and offered friendship that was important for Roy's recovery. We learned that the speech and hearing areas of the brain are near each other and that it is important to keep them active. The visits from family and friends were critical to keeping those functions active. Also, hugs were of great benefit.
We would like to thank some friends who have remained especially steadfast in their extra special help, support, friendship and kindness to both Roy and Shirley. They are Richard Aiken; John Dinklage; Frank Gibney and Diane Muhr; Glenn and Annie Moody; and Peter Burrage, a long time friend of Roy's from the 1960s STAR boat days, and his partner, Susan Hartman. Without hesitation, they transported Shirley to McGill Hospital in Montréal on July 18, 2017, and have helped in so many ways since then. And Mary and Steve Silverman have been there for both of us through many life experiences, some more difficult than others, and have always demonstrated the utmost love, care and friendship for both of us, usually with a dose of good humor and Mary's food. Roy and Shirley have felt privileged with many people's support, friendship and kindness, along with our families' love. You enriched our lives very much, and Roy died being grateful for that.
Any life celebration will be later in the year with consideration given to the health environment and our families' schedules.
In lieu of flowers or plants, if you wish to honor Roy's memory, the family suggests a donation to either of the following organizations, with a notation that it is in memory of Roy Neuer:
1) Stark Mountain Foundation, P.O. Box 1221, Waitsfield, VT 05673. For the past 20 years, the Stark Mountain Foundation has supported many projects alone or in collaboration with other organizations, such as the Green Mountain Club and the Preservation Trust of Vermont. SMF's mission is to preserve and protect the environment and ecosystem of Stark Mountain, on which Mad River Glen Ski area is located, and to preserve its recreational access and historic value. Recently, the Foundation funded the new Mad River Glen Ski Patrol and Ski School building in its entirety.
2) UVM Health Network Home, Health & Hospice, Development Office, 1110 Prim Rd., Colchester, VT 05546 or online at uvmhomehealth.org. They were excellent communicators and providers of care for Roy and his family. It is an amazingly well organized group of caring people.
Cremation was by Stephen C. Gregory & Son in South Burlington, Vt. To leave a message for the family, please go online to gregorycremation.com.