Sunday, August 7, 2016

Another Pillar of the Niermeyer Family Has Gone to Be with the Lord: The Life and Legacy of David A. Niermeyer

Another pillar of the Niermeyer family has passed from this life into the next.  On July 24, 2016, my dad’s brother David A. Niermeyer died unexpectedly early in the morning.  Days later, I’m struggling to wrap my head around the news. 

The Memorial Mass was held Saturday, August 6, 2016, at Our Lady of Sorrows in Vestal, New York.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it up there for it, but I’m absolutely certain the church was filled to overflowing with family and friends.
Ann and Jim (my parents) Rich, Linda, me, Kevin, Florence, Dave,
Patty & Bob (my dad's brothers and their wives)

The last time my dad and his three brothers were on this earth together was at our wedding September 4, 2004.  (The top left and bottom right photos in the above collage were taken then.) The final visit we had with both Dave and Florence together with their three children took place in August 2009 on the occasion of my father’s funeral.  (The photo on the top right of my collage above is of their family that weekend.)  The last time my mom, sisters, and I were with their whole family was for Aunt Florence’s funeral back in October of 2010.       

Here's a recent photo of Dave
with is mother-in-law Ruth Meyer.
I can’t fathom the loss and grief his children Annie, Eric, and Dave and their families must be experiencing right now.  Ruth Meyer, their maternal grandmother, only just passed away 14 days before their father’s unexpected death.  She was 98, and she’d lived a full life.     

The world doesn’t seem right without Uncle Dave in it.  A measure of safety and security have been yanked off, exposing the tender wound beneath the bandage.  My dad passed away seven years ago this week, but as long as Uncle Dave was alive, I felt certain there remained a protector/advocate for my mom, sisters, and me from the Niermeyer clan. Dave always looked out for my dad and our family, made sure to keep in touch, and expressed concern and love for all of us. 

Rich, Jim (my dad), Dave, and Bob Niermeyer, the fab four.
Since my dad was fifteen years younger than his brothers, and Pa (their father) passed away within a few years of my dad becoming a parent, Dave and his brothers were in many ways more like father figures to my dad than just brothers or one of his peers.  Uncle Dave influenced my dad a great deal.  Dad worked hard, played hard, and gave generously, in part, because he watched his three older brothers do the same.  

Pa passed away around the time my sister Mary was born, and my maternal grandfather died within the next decade, so my dad’s older brothers were the men we looked up to, spent time with, and saw my dad strive to imitate.     

Uncle Dave with grandson.
When I was in high school, we had to write an essay about someone we admired.  I wrote about Uncle Dave, comparing him to a knight in shining armor: brave, generous, chivalrous, bold, relentless, driven to help other people, fiercely loyal, eager to save and welcome into their family a very young damsel in distress (the daughter they adopted from Korea).  Uncle Dave had so much determination and such a strong will, tempered by a devout Catholic faith and a love big enough for family members, friends, children, and young people from all over the world. 

Uncle Dave being goofy
at our rehearsal dinner.
True to the Niermeyer name, he had a great sense of humor and was known as a bit of a troublemaker.  Uncle Dave would go to outrageous lengths to make others laugh.  His stories, his antics, and cleverness made him rather notorious in certain circles.  I’m genuinely surprised they let anyone else in the Niermeyer family on campus at St. John Fisher College after some of the stunts he and his brothers pulled while students there.

Uncle Dave and Aunt Florence were always welcoming people into their lives, into their home, and into their hearts.  Their hospitality and compassion for others knew no bounds.   Dave didn’t do things halfway.  He threw himself into his work, his family, his faith, and his numerous philanthropic undertakings.  He had a soft spot for those who were suffering, particularly children, and worked hard to provide many with the most basic needs: food, shelter, clean water, love, education, and hope for the future.   

Rich, Florence, Dave, Patty, Linda, Jim (my dad), Theresa,
Bob, me, Kevin at our fabulously informal rehearsal dinner.
My uncle and his three brothers could be every bit as exasperating as they were endearing.  My dad had trouble maintaining his composure when he talked about some of the pranks, practical jokes, and ingenious schemes Bob, Rich, and Dave carried out.  The four Niermeyer brothers have always had a penchant for the mischievous, an appreciation for the ridiculous, and a relentlessness that had them running circles around their competition, sometimes quite literally. 

Not too long ago, my cousin Dave and his wife Lizanne met us for dinner in Richmond on their way south for a family vacation.  Dave is every bit as goofy, endearing, incorrigible, charming, and full of himself as his father.  We spent much of the meal laughing hysterically.

Uncle Dave and me.
Growing up, we spent a good chunk of time with Uncle Dave, Aunt Florence, Dave, Eric, and Annelisa at their house in Binghamton.  I remember attending a really nice catered dinner party my uncle hosted in 1992 in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary.  One memorable aspect of the evening was when Uncle Dave dressed up as a Viking (Florence is Norwegian.) 

That same year, Dave and Florence made their first trip to Kenya for a safari as part of their quarter-century marriage celebration.  During their 17 days there, they met up with a man from near their hometown in the United States who was doing missionary work in Nairobi with people in the slums.  Peter Daino showed them the horrible living conditions and circumstances of the poor in that area, and it changed the course of their lives.  They returned home deeply moved and inspired to do something significant to make a difference.  That trip was the impetus for them creating Boystown at Ruai, a residential school program for Kenyan street children.  To read more about the project and impact they’ve had, click here.  

Dave with daughter Annie and grandchildren
Will, Claire, and Garrett.
Feisty, stubborn, just like his mom, who we called Nana, Dave wasn’t interested in following the rules.  In fact, he took great pleasure in breaking many of them with a flourish.  I’m not sure how accurate the story is, but my dad once told me that his brother was only in second grade when he came home smelling like liquor and smoke.  His mom asked what he’d been up to, and he told her he’d been drinking some alcohol and smoked a cigar at his friend’s house.  I wouldn’t be too shocked to have it confirmed that this actually happened.    

Dave with my sister Theresa.

Some remember my uncle Dave for his success in business, devout faith, for the finesse with which he made the most of going bald at a fairly young age, for the trouble he had hearing, his deathly allergy to peanuts, his penchant for alcohol and love of ice cream, his knack for numbers, his bone-crushing hugs, misty eyes, and/or his passion for helping people.  

I remember all of these things about him and so many more.  One essay, article, or obituary isn’t enough to capture the magnitude of this man’s life or anyone’s life, really.  I will write more as I continue to process his life and the impact he’s had on me, our family, and on our world.  
Claire, Will, Lucas, Alex, and Garrett.

My Prayer: Lord, please grant Dave's soul a peaceful repose. Be with Annie, Eric, Dave, Chuck, Melanie, Lizanne, Garrett, Will, Claire, Lucas, Alex, Tiffany, Scott, Ashley, Aarika, Nathan, and Sarah as well as all of their children and grandchildren, and the many who are mourning the loss of this man. 

A great man doesn’t seem sufficient to describe David A. Niermeyer, but remarkable and amazing seem too trite.  He certainly left a legacy, made his mark on the world, and touched the lives of a number of people.  His most beautiful and lasting gifts to this world are most definitely the love he gave to his family. They are by far his greatest blessing to this world, and he knew that very well.

To read Dave's obituary, click here.  If you would like to help continue Dave's legacy, donations can be made to The Niermeyer Foundation, 224 Meeker Rd., Vestal, NY, 13850.
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