John Richard Vennerholm
- Published: March 31, 2023
John Richard Vennerholm, formerly of Yellow Springs, left us on Friday, April 1, 2022, to go off on his next voyage.
Born Aug. 13, 1931, in Owasso, Michigan, John was the first child of Gösta Vennerholm, a metallurgist with the Ford Company, and Esther Finch Vennerholm, a talented piano teacher. At the age of 2, John traveled with his family by ocean liner overseas to England, thus beginning his lifelong passion for all things related to ships and being on the ocean. He lived with his parents in England for several years, traveling back and forth to the States on such ships as the Bremen, the Normandie, the Europa and the Queen Mary. He spent time as well in Sweden, where he met his Swedish relatives, establishing a lifelong close friendship with his cousin Bert. His brother Edward Sherman was born while the family lived in England. Upon returning to the United States at the age of 7, John and his family moved to Dearborn, Michigan, where John spent the remainder of his childhood years.
Upon graduation from high school in 1949, John enrolled in the School of Engineering at the University of Michigan, and entered into the NROTC program, where, during his freshman year, he received the William Randolph Hearst Medal for Outstanding Contract Midshipman and became a platoon leader. He was also the co-captain of the Navy ROTC Indoor Rifle Team, where he earned his sharpshooter qualification. He loved the classes, especially seamanship, navigation, gunnery and machinery, which intrigued him with the vast and intricate systems of shipboard steam generation and use. Graduating from the University of Michigan in June of 1954, he was immediately commissioned as an ensign to the El Dorado in San Diego, California.
One evening in June of 1951, while he was a student at the University of Michigan, John and his best friend, Carl Tufts, went to Edgewater Park in Detroit. There he glimpsed a tall, slim brunette and screwed up the courage to ask her to dance at the dance pavilion. She said “yes,” and they are proof of love at first sight. The very next day they went on a date, and agreed then and there that they would be married someday. John and Geraldine Sue Morrison married in December 1956, raised three daughters — Karen, Cynthia and Susan — together, and were happily married for 41 years, until Geri’s untimely death from lung cancer in 1998.
John resigned his commission as a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander in the late ’50s, and he and Geri landed first in Elyria, Ohio, where he worked as an engineer at the Western Automatic Screw Company for Al Moen, of the now world-famous Moen plumbing line. After a year or so, John was offered a job in a little town called Yellow Springs, at a foundry called Morris Bean & Company, where they were developing a revolutionary new method for casting aluminum. John and Geri fell in love with this little town, and decided that this was where they wanted to put down roots and raise their family. They lived here for 27 years, until Morris Bean & Company sent John to Clinton, South Carolina, to manage their new southern facility. The couple spent a few years in South Carolina, but eventually John retired from Morris Bean, and they moved to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where John worked for a time for Outboard Marine Corporation. About a year after losing Geri, John reconnected with an old high school acquaintance named Virginia Boase Waldinger while planning their 50th high school reunion. The two dated long-distance for a while — Virginia lived in Texas — married in 2001, and moved to Melbourne, Florida, in 2003. There they found a home in a wonderful community of military retirees.
The quintessential Renaissance Man, John loved mastering any skill or hobby that he put his mind to. He was a talented and graceful skier, and with Geri founded the Yellow Springs High School Ski Club; sailed a Hobie Cat; played tennis; and was an amateur astronomer who built his own telescope, grinding his own precise reflecting mirror. He received two patents while working at Morris Bean & Co., recalibrated the track at Yellow Springs High School, was active in the Lions Club, and was involved in the planning of the Apollo Observatory at the Dayton Museum of Natural History. He was a pilot and flew his own Cessna for years. He played classical guitar, enjoyed drawing and painting, and was a gifted woodworker. He built and piloted radio-controlled sailplanes, achieving the highest honor of Level 5 in the League of Silent Flight. He was fascinated with space and space exploration — a lifelong Buck Rogers devotee, he read science fiction voraciously — and loved living in east central Florida, where he could watch the launches from Cape Canaveral from his own front yard. While he lived in Florida he became involved in amateur theater, wrote and produced several of his own productions with the Cart Barn Players, and enjoyed building RC boats.
John was a dedicated, supportive parent. He raised his daughters to be strong, self-sufficient, confident women who believe they can do whatever they set their minds to. He came to their track meets, the horse shows and the flute and piano recitals. He made sure his daughters could change a tire and oil, and with such a sharp mind, dinner times were always accompanied by stimulating conversation. He was curious about everything, and was a good teacher as well, enjoying passing on knowledge and skills. He had a wicked sense of humor — nobody loved a good pun like he did — and he cherished the use of a rich vocabulary. He was a deep thinker who appreciated his life and the opportunities he had.
John was fiercely proud of his Swedish heritage, traveled to Sweden as often as he could and investigated his Swedish ancestry with great dedication. An inventor at heart, he was always looking for a better way to do things.
John was predeceased by his parents, Gösta and Esther Vennerholm, his first wife, Geraldine Sue Morrison Vennerholm, and his dear cousin, Bert Vennerholm. His second wife, Virginia Boase Waldinger Vennerholm, passed away just four months after him. He is survived by his daughters, Karen Vennerholm Hammond, of Yellow Springs, Cynthia Vennerholm-Tuttle, of Omaha, Nebraska, and Susan Vennerholm, of Leavenworth, Washington; four beloved granddaughters who were the light of his life, Megan and Rachel Hammond and Grace and Briana Tuttle; a brother, Edward Sherman Vennerholm, of West Chester, Ohio; and several nieces and nephews. He is truly missed.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air … .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
—John Gillespie Magee
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