2003 in the FSU Biological Science History project

2003 In the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University (updated 25 Apr 03)

     Return to Ralph W. Yerger in memoriam page

Remarks by Dr. Robert Spivey, May 15, 2003

Ralph William Yerger, Sr.
July 31, 1922 - May 11, 2003

Husband, father, grandfather, colleague, friend--the eight decades of Ralph William Yerger's life were filled with living, learning and loving.

One could have guessed his destiny from early on--valedictorian of his Pennsylvania high school class; an eighteen year old who journeyed with three buddies 9,000 miles for 6 1/2 weeks to the far west and Mexico at a total personal cost of $125; distinguished World War II army officer in the Battle of the Bulge, a prestigious Ph.D. in vertebrate zoology from Cornell University. All these led to Florida State University in the fall of 1950, where he found his real home both professionally and personally.

Professionally he rose in rank from assistant to full professor in the short span of eleven years. During his 38-year teaching career, 10 of his students were awarded doctorates and an additional 19 completed master's degrees--most in ichthyology, the study of fish, his chosen specialty in the Department of Biological Science, where he headed FSU's fish collection for 32 years. In fact one species was named for Ralph. Moreover, he was selected as the first recipient of the Margaret Menzel Teaching Award in Biological Science. Further, one of his grateful former students, Gwynn Aiken, endowed the Yerger Lectureship in Biological Science--a permanent testimony to his distinction as a scholar and teacher.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to his teaching was his personal appeal to a young coed, namely Frances Irene Winterle. Her taking his introductory course eventually led to their 1954 June wedding, which in turn led to their splendid children--Paula, Rachelle, Loreen and Ralph, Jr.--and in turn to four wonderful grandsons Brian, Keegan, Hans, and Chase.

The privilege of knowing Ralph well occurred for me when he became my colleague, and eventually of Werner Baum in the College of Arts and Sciences, where Ralph served as associate dean or acting dean from 1977 through 1983.

As a person, Ralph was not complex. Some would say he was "matter of fact," not given to expressing emotions, "a man of few words." All true and yet, what do you make of that twinkle in his eyes? He did so enjoy life.

Surely this man was organized. As Irene recalls the first day of that introductory course, Dr. Yerger walked to the lectern in the classroom, opened his folder of notes, and immediately the bell rang for class to begin. At the end of class, he closed his notes and immediately the bell rang for class dismissal. At Christmas, gifts for each of the children were carefully arranged by father Ralph in predetermined spaces. On Sundays after church, the children recall, there was a regular routine--lunch at a fast food place and then a drive out in the country, the area where Killearn Estates now stands. That was one routine, and another was that he never raised his voice to children or wife, except when he snored. When grading papers he was notorious for making a big red X wherever there was a mistake or error. Irene recalls saying something to the effect, "Don't you think that will make your students feel bad?" To which Ralph replied, "I want them to feel bad!"

Ralph (and Irene) was a traveler, for research and pleasure. Besides many of the states, they traveled in 17 other nations. And through the University Club interest group Globetrotters, there were other places they visited as well.

One passion, not to be overlooked, was Ralph's love of eating. During their courtship days Ralph impressed his future wife's mother at Thanksgiving by consuming three helpings of turkey with all the trimmings. They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and for many the way to a woman's heart is through his stomach. A colleague, knowing of his impending marriage and capacity for eating, asked him, "Can she cook?" Ralph replied, "Would I be marrying her if she couldn't?"

As some of you know, after retirement Ralph became interested in genealogy--as he put it "a frustrating and never ending venture." Bob Short, Ralph's colleague and friend--they both came to FSU in 1950--tells this story on Ralph. It seems he was lecturing, later in life, on the three effects of the aging process. After declaring that the first thing to go was memory, he paused and paused some more, then lamented, "I've forgotten the other two."

Remember then and celebrate Ralph Yerger, this solid, kind, gentle, trusted husband, father, grandfather, colleague, and friend who filled our lives with appetites for living, learning and loving.

Because of him we too feast. Thank God.

This page is part of the Departmental History Project of the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University. Can you help us fill in the blanks? If you were once a student here, or a member of our faculty or staff, we'd love to hear from you. Send an e-mail to thistle@bio.fsu.edu, a fax to (850) 644-9829, or snail-mail to Dr. Anne B. Thistle, Editor, Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1100. And thanks!