Obituary: Ronald Yohe Parkinson
Ronald Yohe Parkinson passed away on Thursday, June 5, 2014 at his home in Rhinelander after a gracious dance with dementia and pancreatic and colon cancers. His wife, Laura Ehmann, sister-in-law, Debra Ehmann, and brother-in-law, Martin Rowe, cared for Ron in their home 24 hours a day during his final months. Ron’s passing was grieved and his life celebrated by family and friends in a home funeral gathering immediately after his death. He took his final road trip in his beloved 1985 VW Vanagon to the crematorium at Bradley Funeral Home in Antigo. This summer, a memorial service will be held at the Clam Lake Cemetery in the Chequamegan Forest near the family shack and Minnie Creek where his father’s ashes are part of the trout stream. Ron was born in 1933 and grew up in Park Falls, before moving to Rhinelander and graduating from Rhinelander High School in 1951—he organized many of the later Class of ’51 reunions. He spent his adult life as a traveler, logger, nuclear engineer, business owner and poet. Upon graduating from high school, Ron and four friends filled the trunk of a 1939 Pontiac with canned goods and crackers and drove from Rhinelander to Mexico City and back, cooking their food on an old Coleman stove and sleeping along the roadside. He attended the University of Wisconsin Madison, graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering. While in college, he worked summers for the Rhinelander Paper Mill, cutting huge popples with an ax and a Swede saw in the days before chain saws were common. After graduating college, he served for two years as a U.S. Air Force officer in England before returning to UW Madison to complete a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering. He then worked for Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut and Atomics International in California. He helped develop the first and only atomic reactor launched into space as well radioisotope heaters for the Mars Lander. Ron left his career as a nuclear engineer to manage his first wife’s family school supply business in St. Louis, which grew into the largest school supplier in the Midwest. A gifted athlete, Ron played rugby in St. Louis for 25 years, before retiring to his true home, Rhinelander. His only regret about moving home was that he missed by seven years his goal of playing rugby until age 70 because Rhinelander had no team. Ron was active in Meals on Wheels, WXPR Public Radio, ArtStart, Nicolet Men’s Chorus, Community Band and Spice of Life Dinner Theater. While in retirement he continued to travel the world with his wife, Laura Ehmann, and work on his poetry. One of his favorite poems tells of a time in the Australian outback with Laura climbing a tree to seek safety while he struggled to free their stuck VW bus from a crocodile infested river. He was honored this spring at Nicolet College with an award for the Best Poem by a Community Member for his poem, Lillian, about the memories of an elderly woman he visited while delivering Meals on Wheels. Throughout his life, Ron experienced many adventures, both high and low. He once walked out on the wing of a biplane flying thousands of feet above the Mojave Desert and parachuted off. Another time he ran out of air while scuba diving 120 feet down in the Florida Gulf Stream and made it back to the surface. But in the end, it was the simple pleasures that gave Ron boundless joy. As he tells it, “My true loves are splitting wood to keep my family warm, hunting partridge in the golden glow of fall in the Chequamegan National Forest, and wandering aimlessly in the back streets of London, England.” Ron is survived by his wife, Laura Ehmann; daughter, Dr. Katherine Parkinson; son-in-law, Bill Jury; son, Dr. Randall Parkinson; daughter in-law, Laura Parkinson; son, Craig Parkinson; son, Brad Parkinson; daughter in-law Terry Parkinson; sister, Cynthia Parkinson; grandchildren, Natalie Jury, Olivia Jury, Daniel Parkinson, Michael Parkinson, Reece Parkinson, Robyn Parkinson and James Watkins; sister-in-law, Debra Ehmann; and brother-in-law Martin Rowe. An ArtStart Memorial Fund has been established to honor Ron’s work in the community and to support the last of his many volunteer endeavors. A generous lead gift was made to encourage gifts that will go toward memorializing Ron’s name and service on a glass panel in ArtStart’s Glass Gallery. Donations may be made to: ArtStart-Ron, PO Box 896, Rhinelander WI 54501.