Saturday, June 25, 2005

Delbert E. Wylder, 1923-2004

My father died last December, but memorial services were not held until Memorial Day weekend. In a recent post, Rexroth's Daughter asks whether I reconciled with my father. The answer is, thankfully, yes. Below is my tribute to him, given at his burial service in Morrison, Illinois, May 26, 2005:

Near the end of a disappointing year, I received the news that my father, Delbert E. “Deb” Wylder had been diagnosed with leukemia and was hospitalized at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When I talked to him at the hospital, he told me that instead of the four years he had four weeks. I arranged to get two weeks off work at the beginning of January to see him one more time. There were a lot of things we both wanted to talk about. Sadly, it was not to be. It turned out that he didn’t have four days. My brother, who made a heroic effort to drive from Iowa City to Albuquerque when he learned of the acute nature of our dad's leukemia, didn't make it there in time.

He died peacefully, and while he was looking forward to going home and spending his last days with his beloved wife, Edith Perry Wylder. And he made it to age 81--almost a decade longer than most Wylder males, who typically die at age 72.

He grew up in Morrison, Illinois, where his father worked for the Smith Trust and Savings Bank. After graduating from Morrison High School, he spent a year at Coe College, transferred to the University of Illinois, but interrupted his schooling to join the U.S. Army Air Forces. He saw action as a fighter pilot, flying P-47 Thunderbolts over Italy. He was featured in the 2001 History Channel documentary “The Color of War.”His war experiences also gave me my name--I was named for his wingman, Stephen Verm, who died when his P-47 crashed during a dive-bombing run.

After the war, he went to the University of Iowa, where he was in Paul Engle’s Writers’ Workshop. It was in Iowa City where he met my mother, Jean Williams Wylder, whom he married in 1949. I was born two years later, in Peoria, where my dad had taken a teaching post at Bradley University. The couple returned to Iowa City in 1952. My brother Bill was born there in 1956.

My parents’ marriage was not a successful one, and they divorced in 1965. The same year, my dad married Edith Perry Stamm. They would have been married forty years this June. Edith is a noted Emily Dickinson scholar. She has been a kind and loving stepmother.

Deb Wylder taught English at a number of universities, and mentored many of today’s writers and scholars, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham. He was the author of numerous scholarly articles and two books: Hemingway’s Heroes (1969) and Emerson Hough: Twayne’s United States Author’s Series 397 (1981). He was one of the founders of the Western Literature Association.

My dad introduced me to the world of writing and literature, and encouraged me in my freelance writing. When I was a small child and fascinated with trains, he often took me down to the Iowa City depot to watch the Rock Island trains go through.

One of his many friends said, “I can’t imagine a world without Deb.” I can’t either. So long as there are people who have been inspired by his teaching, mentoring, and writing, and touched by his love, Deb Wylder is with us.

10 comments:

Rexroth's Daughter said...

That's a beautiful tribute to your dad. I have often thought that one of the finest gifts we can give our parents is for them to know on their deathbeds that they have been loved by their children. It sounds like Deb Wylder had that.
My sympathies for your loss to you and your family.

Susan said...

When I wrote my mom's eulogy, it seemed to help me with the pain rather than being heart breaking, I wonder if you found the same thing?
Echoing the above, beautiful tribute

plasticdoc said...
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Erik Mann said...
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Rob Edwards said...

I knew your father at Murray State University; I was a student there when he brought Jim Galvin and later Jorie Graham to the English Department. He was a brilliant, wise and dedicated man who had a strong and gracious wife. They both put the good of the student above personal gain and professional politics. He built a very strong English Department and Creative Program (which didn't last after he left). I will never forget them, nor their kindness and encouragement to all the students. He was definitely ahead of his time, and I was lucky to be in the English Department while he was the Chairman. I have thought often of them both and wanted you to know what a positive impact they had on my life.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I very much appreciated your tribute to your father. (My dad also died in 2004).

I’m forever grateful to Deb for hiring me for my first full-time teaching job at Southwestern Minnesota State College in 1971. He and Edith were true mentors and friends to my wife and me for the three years we spent there.

It’s been said many times, but his support of writers and poets was a passion that he lived every day. As a poet who was just starting to publish in those days, I found his encouragement enormously validating.

Have you seen the anthology, Farming Words, that was just published and is dedicated to your father and Edith? (See http://www.southwest.msus.edu/CampusLife/NewsEvents/Index.cfm?NewsId=1602 )

All the Best,
Al Zolynas
azolynas@alliant.edu

WILKIE said...

WILKIE SAID:

DEB'S DEATH LEFT A BIG BLANK IN MY LIFE. I LOVED DELBERT EUGENE WYLDER.

Jessi Kuehl said...

This was a very moving tribute. I am the Great-Granddaughter of Jack Wylder. Your father Deb was my great uncle. I have been reading Uncle Debs book he wrote with all the letters between the family. I miss Grandpa Jack so much, and I am so very greatfull that your father took so much time and effort to compile that book. I just thought I would let you know. Thank you again.

steve on the slow train said...

Jessi--Thank you for your kind words. I enjoued many happy times at my uncle Jack's house in Morrison, on the strre we used to call Climco Coil Windings Drive. I may have met you at my father's burial service at your grandmother's house. Thank you again.

ed.mcalister said...

I had to take an English class at Murray State in order to rack up the appropriate credits. Thank God the class I took was Literature of the American West, and the professor was Deb Wylder. He left me with a profound love of western literature, and introduced me to some of the very finest American authors I've ever read. He had an infectious laugh, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for the words and images. He was among the two or three teachers in my life worthy of the title. I am profoundly sorry for your loss, and hope that you take comfort in your father's impact on the intellectual lives of his students. Godspeed, Deb Wylder.