[Source: UIOWA Digital Library, eulogy delivered by Nicholas Johnson, Lancaster, Wisconsin, 17 Jun 1969.]
Evelyn, Connie, Roger, other family members and dear friends, Reverend Kranz.
Each of us here knew Albert L. Sherman in our own way. To some, he was Mr. Sherman, to others, he was Al or Albert. He signed his columns, A. L. Sherman, sometimes, A. L. S. With his children and his grandchildren, he was more lighthearted. He signed the last two letters we received, Grand Pere Albert, and Senor Alberto, but to me he was always Dad Sherman. This was a title that blended the family relationship we both cherished with the respect and admiration which I held for him.
It is not my wish to impose my private thoughts on you at this time. It was never my practice to speak very much in Dad Sherman’s presence, and it’s not easy for me to do so now.
I came to him to listen, and I came to learn. But it’s we who must now speak at this, our last meeting with him. I was always flattered whenever he asked me to speak, and I was especially touched to learn that he had asked that I say a few words today.
There are many among you who knew Dad Sherman better and longer than I did. Many who could speak more appropriately and eloquently on this occasion. So, I seek here to speak for each of us, to each of us, as we share together the common bond that brings us here today: this man who touched the lives of all of us. So, we share our common, and our own deeply personal memories of this man.
He was fond of poetry, as you know. He took time for the poetry in literature, and the poetry in life. Some 50 years ago in England, he happened upon a poem that was engraved in stone near the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson, a poem of his. And as he did so often in life, he engraved it in his own mind at that time, and some 50 years later quoted it back in a letter to Andi and Karen.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig me a grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he wished to be;
Home is the hunter, home from the hill.
And the sailor, home from the sea.
He was preparing us, and himself, for death. I intensely want to continue to live, he told me a couple months ago. And he did. He lived gladly, as he said in the poem. But he was also prepared for death. For at the next moment after he had said that he quoted from a Dr. Bridges: “A full and rounded life that ends,” Dad Sherman said, “He calls that frozen music.” frozen music.
He was a symbol of America for all of us, I think, especially for me. The kind of symbol we find in our story books, and in our history books.
He was born in 1884. The family has been famous in America since 1628. He lived his teenage years, and his twenties, in the 1890s, in the years before World War I. His mother died when he was 14. He set out to find his fortune, and to seek what he still characterized in his last months, as adventure.
He was, at one and the same time, a part Lewis and Clark, Johnny Appleseed, Huck Finn and Abe Lincoln. At least he was as close to those men as any of us were ever likely to get. America was an adventure for a boy then, and it was always an adventure for him. America in the 1890s, early 1900s, was a growing country, prosperous country, and an exciting country in which to live. And he lived the life then, that today we write folk songs about. He worked in the wheat harvest, went north through the prairies. He worked in the mines. He surveyed the land, and he crossed it with telephone lines.
He traveled by stagecoach, and on horseback, and on foot. And through it all, he saw, and he heard, and most of all, he remembered. Only two months ago, he was regaling us with a story of three men he had met in a shack in Kansas during a rainstorm, while he was engaged in the wheat harvest. Now I would have remembered this as three men, but not so Dad Sherman. This had taken place some 65 years ago, but he still remembered their names, which I had to write down, or I would have forgotten them only two months later. Van Zante, Ashton Brenner, and Weigand. And he remembered what they looked like, and their hair, and their eyes, and their build, and he remembered their family history, how their ancestors had gone from Germany to Russia in 1798, and been given 100 years amnesty, and that had run out in 1898. And they’d had to leave, and they’d come to the United States.
I don’t suppose he spent more than an hour or so with them, until the rain passed over, but they obviously had made an impression upon him, as did virtually all of the experiences that he lived in his very rich life. He spent his life in learning. This was not a formal education for him. He was a self-made man in every sense. But for him, education meant travel, as well as lots of reading, and continually looking up words in his six dictionaries. He went to England and to Europe numerous times. He was there at the outbreak of World War II. He saw and heard Hitler when he was speaking and arousing the German people to war.
In February of this year, he wrote Karen and Andi of his desire, once again to go to England, and see Spain, and Greece, and the Holy Land. He traveled a great deal, but for all he traveled his heart, and his home, were always with his family, and his friends, here in Lancaster.
Lancaster was a town that he and his new bride found relatively early in their life. They chose Lancaster out of all the places that they could have made their home. They lived here. They died here.
Hard work has always been a quality we like to associate with America. It took millions of men, some 300 years to make of the American wilderness the modern industrialized nation we have today. And Dad Sherman was one of those men.
Two and a half years ago, we were visiting in the Herald office, and this was during the Christmas holidays, and it didn’t seem at all unnatural for him to be working during the Christmas holidays, while the rest of us were vacationing. And, he never stopped working when he wanted to talk, as most of us do, we tend to lean on the wall and talk. But he didn’t, he went right on working and talking at the same time.
And, as he was climbing up on the press, well in his eighties, obviously, at this point, I commented on how hard he was still working. And he poo-pooed this. He said, “Oh,” he said, “But I don’t work nights anymore. No, I cut that out entirely” — some 20 or 30 or more years after the time when many men retire. And he combined the labor of the hand, with the labor of the mind, for that was the kind of newspaper he ran. He set the type himself, and ran the presses, as many of you know who visited him there in the Herald office.
And yet, for all his labors and the hours that he put in his work, I think it’s remarkable the extent to which his children and grandchildren, remember him as a head of a family, as a father, as a grandfather. He was a steadying influence. His home was the refuge from occasionally stormy seas. Andi and Craig and Dave, remember with warmth and appreciation the time they spent in the Sherman household as children. I’ve known of Karen’s dedication to Dad Sherman, since I first met Karen, early on in grade school. The grandchildren, Cher, Jocie, and Ken thought that he was in many ways a grandfather image. Sort of an ideal; almost a storybook grandfather.
We all liked to listen to him talk, and even Jeff and Flint I remember him quoting the Bible, and telling them stories. Evie, Connie and Roger remember his devotion to nature; the family rides in the countryside.
Roger recalls his organizing the family to go see a sunset. So it got to be where a sunset was pretty darn important. Dad Sherman had organized it.
And what started out to be a search for morel mushrooms would most often end up as a lesson in appreciation of botany, and poetry, and geology, as Dad Sherman would point out to them the land, and the flowers, and the streams he loved, and that he taught them to love. While at the same time, doing his work and coming back with a bountiful harvest of morel mushrooms. Well, he loved the land, but most of all, he loved the people.
Two months ago, Karen and my mother, and Dad Sherman, my son Gregory and I, drove up to the cemetery where we will be going this afternoon. And, as he looked upon the gravestones, he said, and these were his very words, he said, “I’ve lived here 54 years. These people I’ve known, and I often think what fine human beings they were. Fine persons.” He felt the same way about all of you. I think most of you here know that. Some of you may not. I can’t begin to recall the names of all of you of whom he spoke to me over the years. But you know who you are, and I can tell you this, that I never heard him say an unkind word about any one of you.
This even extended to his competitors in the newspaper business. Two and a half years ago, when we were visiting the Herald office, he told me being visited many, many years ago by a university president, been newly appointed, making the rounds of the newspapers. The visitor had gone to the other newspaper office first, and when he came to see Dad Sherman, he told him how the folks at the other paper had said that Dad Sherman was really the best writer in town. And he was proud of that compliment, but Dad Sherman said to me at that point, he said, “Now, I’d like to pay him a compliment,” meaning his competitor. He said, “Now I’d like to pay him a compliment which I think, is higher than that.”
And he described the man as kind, and generous, and cooperative. And he continued, “To me that’s more than anything else because, first of all, you’ve got to be a man. And then to that you can add as much as you like.” Well now, how could you improve on that as a philosophy?
Philosopher, he was. A philosopher with a sense of humor. A month ago, he wrote me a letter reflecting upon the newspaper business. He said, “A lesson of the newspaper business, is that if you give womanhood full appreciation, your success is to that degree assured. The hand that rocks the cradle, not only rules the world, but can also throw out any newspaper not wanted in the house.”
He once was telling me about an extraordinarily lucky man, and at least in his judgment in this part of the country, and described him as, “A man who, if he fell in the river, would come up with his pockets full of fish.” And only recently, still in very good humor, he’d called on a doctor for a lesion on his forehead, and he wrote as follows: “He charged me six big dollars and threw up his hands and told me to consult a dermatologist in Dubuque, as it was out of his line. The big joke is that I have no way to get to Dubuque unless I walk, which would take two days, as I have no car. I think a trip to England would be a better cure.”
And from his philosophy in his writing, his example, his visiting with us, we all grew into better persons. We came to understand the qualities that he not only preached, but also practiced: honesty, hard work, love of family, integrity, sense of moral responsibility. He taught us how to live better, how to walk taller as human beings, as Americans. He was a man. He was an individual. He had opinions. They were honestly arrived at, and forthrightly spoken. And we admired him for that.
He wrote Karen and Andi that he wanted to see them for, as he said, “I am renewed in you.” I am renewed in you. And the truth was, of course, that it was we, who were renewed in him.
But how did he wish to be remembered? This man of America, who walked among us, and yet we all knew to be distinguished from us. This man who we saw as possessed of greatness in a truly American way.
He told me, “I don’t want to be on a pedestal. I don’t want to be known as the know-it- all, around here. In the first place, it’s very easy to fall off a pedestal. I just want to be known as an ordinary fellow, who did the best he could. Let that be the verdict.”
Well, he was hardly an ordinary fellow. Even if that’s the way he wants us to remember him. He was a most extraordinary, ordinary man, I’d say.
Now “the hunter is home from the hill, and the sailor’s home from the sea.”
Two months ago, as we stood in the cemetery and watched the sunset, the cows were mooing, and a whippoorwill was singing her song in the distance. Dad talked of selecting the family grave site. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I ever saw,” he said. “I always thought that. We liked the pine trees in the background.”
“Incidentally,” he went on, with a pride in you, and Lancaster and Grant County, that was characteristic of him. “Incidentally,” he said, “it rates as the best kept cemetery in the state.”
Gladly he lived and gladly he died
Now under the wide and starry sky
We’ve dug him a grave
To let him lie
So here he can lie
Where he wished to be
The sailor home from the sea.
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With thanks and credits to Julie Johnson and Gregory Johnson for bringing the existence of this material to my attention, and preparing it for posting to Nicholas Johnson’s Website, https://nicholasjohnson.org. NJ, Dec. 4, 2022