Column: The saddest little obit ever published in The Globe
Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Feb. 18, 2006.
WORTHINGTON — From all the obituaries I have seen in the Daily Globe through passing years, I judged the saddest was one we saw last month. It was fewer than 30 words, including the name and address of the funeral home:
DAN “GEORGE” ERBES “Dan ‘George’ Erbes, 67, of Worthington, died Friday, Jan. 20, 2006, at Sunset Cottage, Worthington. There will be no service. Dingmann Funeral Home, Worthington, is in charge of arrangements.”
No service. No survivors.
I felt even a pang of conscience. I thought here is another time when one of our own slipped through a crack. I mean — if five of us, if four of us had reached out through the years, this would justify a brief memorial service. One friend could read the obituary and all could join in the Lord’s Prayer.
I began asking people. The actress Lee Meriweather, one of those who portrayed Hollywood’s “Catwoman” — Lee Meriweather sent flowers to Dan Erbes at the hospice, at Sunset Cottage.
This story was not shaping as I thought it might.
Dan Erbes was a quilter. He did many quilts with Christmas themes. The quilt that people remember best is 8-feet by 10-feet with a giant Santa Claus. Diane Boots, one of those who saw it, terms it “just beautiful.”
“He worked in shadings — it’s wonderful, “ Diane says. “He loved it at the hospice. He said he did. He really seemed to. He was quilting, trying to get everything done, until four or five days before he died.”
Dan Erbes’ quilts have been taken by a Christmas museum.
After cancer was diagnosed, Dan had to give up his house. He moved to the Atrium. Before he moved, he gave Nobles County Library about 200 volumes of special-edition books, most of them classics, bound in leather, with gilt-edged pages. Some were signed by authors. He also gave a large collection of CDs, many of them operas.
Soon after graduating from Worthington High School, Dan Erbes went to Los Angeles. This was where he spent most of his days. He worked at the Los Angeles Times, doing page layout, page design. He worked behind the scenes helping with sets and set design at Los Angeles theaters but, especially, at LA Opera, the nation’s fourth-largest opera house.
Cooking became a focus. Dan cooked for friends. He chuckled to recall the time he prepared and served a 13- course dinner.
Dan’s mother, Luella Erbes, was one of the charter residents of Okabena Towers. Luella was a slight woman who smiled always and passed along kind words unfailingly. She had a career selling yardgoods and children’s wear at Worthington’s Montgomery Ward department store.
When Lu Erbes was diagnosed with cancer, Dan came home to be with her. This was before Sunset Cottage. Dan rented a house opposite Okabena Towers on 12th Street. After his mother became bedridden, Dan moved her to his house and cared for her until she died.
I asked Diane: “He was always alone?”
“Oh, no!” Diane said. “Here’s the thing: my son said he was at this guy’s house. I thought I had better check this out — you know — this concerns a mother.
“Well, Dan just opened his house to kids. It started when he saw kids waiting in the cold for the school bus. He said if they wanted, they could wait in his house. Kids would come and go. He had a big-screen TV. They worked on puzzles. Sometimes he would watch a film with them. They were company.
“But he went about his business. His music and his books and his quilting. He worried about kids getting caught up in drugs.”
Dan went to Sunset Cottage with his sewing machine and ironing board. He spread his current quilt project over the floor. Kathy Fransen of the Cottage staff recalls, “He was a very wise man. He made a deep impression on everyone.”
After Dan was gone, there was a small — “a tiny” — memorial service at the Cottage.
“We wanted to do that — kids wanted to say good-bye,” Diane says.
They said Dan Erbes lived a life we all should lead. They said he always was upbeat, smiling. They said he was a gentle spirit.
I said I thought perhaps he was bitter — that line in the obituary about no services.
“He just never wanted attention,” Diane said. “He didn’t like a focus on himself.”