Cover photo for Merrill Ray Kaufmann's Obituary
Merrill Ray Kaufmann Profile Photo
1941 Merrill 2022

Merrill Ray Kaufmann

June 17, 1941 — June 26, 2022

Merrill Ray Kaufmann, 81, died peacefully at home on June 26, 2022, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s Disease.  His final days were made brighter thanks to his many outstanding caregivers as well as the support of Hope West Hospice.  Merrill was born on June 17, 1941, and raised in Buckley, Illinois, along with his older sister Neva, the only children of Leo and Lorine Kaufmann.  Buckley is a small farming community, a village less than a third of one square mile in size, with fewer than 600 residents.

After graduating from Buckley-Loda High School in 1959, Merrill headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue higher education.  He graduated with a B.S. in Forestry in 1963, but he did not stop there.  He instead went on to Duke University, where he received a Ph.D. in Forestry in 1967.

Merrill first began teaching and inspiring others as an Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside in 1967.  In 1977 he moved his family to Fort Collins, Colorado to work for the Forest Service as a Research Forest Ecologist, where he remained until his retirement in 2006.  Not one to rest on his laurels, after relocating to Montrose, Colorado and overseeing the construction of his dream home with wife Evelyn, Merrill remained active doing consulting and contract work for many years following his retirement.  This allowed him to continue to contribute to his field and engage with his colleagues… and get paid to visit National Parks (many of which, it turns out, are near micro-breweries).

Merrill has had an illustrious career, as is evidenced in part by the 180 published articles referenced to this day on Google Scholar, dating back to 1966.  Merrill Kaufmann is well known and revered by anyone who is anyone in the world of ecosystem management, forest ecology or wildland fire management.  He remained active professionally through 2017, when he presented on his last publication at a multi-state conference.

What this brief biography fails to convey are the many discoveries Merrill made during his career that have forever changed the course of ecosystem management in our national forests and anywhere with a wildland-urban interface, particularly with regard to fire management.  As we face increasing threats from fires every year, his legacy includes starting the conversation on “good fire vs. bad fire,” which has elevated the understanding of the significant role fires play in maintaining an ecosystem, as well as the unintended and harmful consequences of large-scale fire suppression.  His handprint can be found throughout the pages and publications of the USDA Forest Service, both from his own research and that of the many students, mentees, and colleagues who continue to build upon his work.

In addition to his many professional accomplishments, Merrill could be described as a modern Renaissance Man, with no shortage of interests, skills, and abilities.  He built a cabin from the ground up, from clearing the land to pouring the concrete for the foundation to finishing the roof.  He built furniture and firearms and clocks; he never met a tool he didn’t master.  He acquired a small tractor to manage and landscape his property.  He played the piano and guitar, and, after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, learned to play bass guitar for his church’s praise and worship team.  He hunted and fished.  He ran, hiked, cycled, skated, skied, played tennis and basketball, and made it all look easy.

Although he enjoyed many hobbies and activities, and he was intentional about finding the time to do them, he was equally intentional about supporting and providing for his family.  He taught his daughters the values of hard work and education, raising them to think about college in terms of “when” and “where,” instead of “if.”  He acknowledged the mutual importance of responsibility as well as personal enjoyment and satisfaction with these memorable words of wisdom to an impressionable daughter: “Find something you love to do, and then figure out how to make a living doing it.”  He also brought his unique sense of humor into his parenting: a head-first crash into a wall would invariably be met with, “Is the wall okay?”  (Perhaps it was his way of teaching resilience.)

Merrill will be lovingly remembered for his humor, his brilliance, his steadfast faith, and his enthusiasm for living life to its fullest.  By his own account, he lived a good, full, and blessed life, and he died with peace and contentment, knowing “it is well with my soul.” (See you on the other side, Dad.)  He will be missed.

Merrill is survived by his wife, Evelyn, of 28 years, his daughters Kathryn (Richard) Michel and Kristin (Greg) Brown from his first marriage, and stepchildren Michael (Felicia) Mathias; Beth (Doug) Watterson, and David Mathias.  Also survived by his grandchildren from both marriages: Anthea Johnson, Ethan Brown, Caitlin (Michael) Lother, Douglas (Laura) Watterson, Breann Watterson, Avery Mathias, and Madison Mathias; as well as his nephew Samuel (Kimberly) Janssen.

He was preceded in death by his parents Leo and Lorine (Weerts) Kaufmann, and his sister and brother-in-law Neva and Clinton Janssen.

In lieu of flowers donations made be made to Hope West Hospice, 725 South 4th Street, Montrose, CO  81401; or to The Nature Conservancy, 4245 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203.  You may also visit their website, nature.org, where a memorial for Merrill R. Kaufmann in Montrose has been set up.  Click on “membership and giving,” then “other ways to give.”

All are welcome to attend Merrill’s memorial service on July 23, 2022, at 10:30 am in the First Presbyterian Church, 1840 East Niagara Road in Montrose.  A light lunch will be served following the service.

Crippin Funeral Home is assisting with arrangements, 970-249-2121.

 

 

 

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