Our deepest sympathies to the friends, family, colleagues, and readers of Texas children’s author and poet Jerry Wermund, who died July 15 at age 94. He’s pictured above at a Texas Library Association conference.
A founding member of Austin’s SCBWI chapter, Jerry was a geologist who began writing for children after retiring from the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin.
Author Kathi Appelt of College Station recalls that Jerry was a student in the very first writing workshop she ever taught in Austin.
I want one more moment with my darling friend, Jerry. In it, I would tell him that I loved his penguin, the one he created out of his imagination, the one that somehow swam off-course and found himself on a rocky shore, alone, frightened, a bit battered from his hard journey.
The story wasn’t true, it wasn’t wonderful, wasn’t remarkable in any real way.
And sometimes, we even got a good, hearty laugh out of it, if you want to know.
But it was what Jerry had to say at the time. He wrote it not long after he lost his beloved Susan, and somewhere in there, he lost a son, too.
Looking back, I can see that the penguin was what he wanted us to know, what he wanted himself to know about being dashed on the rocks.
It was brave: the penguin, the story, Jerry.
And it was big-hearted too. And that was also Jerry. We speak of people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, but none did so more than E.G. Wermund. He was quick to laugh, and just as quick to cry. And not afraid to do either.
I want that moment. I’d tell him that he changed the way I see the world. I’d say, “You know that I see the essential elements of it differently now. Thanks to you, I know that rocks have their own songs.”
He wrote them for me, for the world, for all the kids who, like himself, loved nothing more than to hold a perfect stone in their hand and then skip it across a lake or a pond or into the fine, blue Texas sky.
He found the poetry of shale and mica and limestone and whispered it onto the page so that all of us could hear the wonder of it. He was the bard of rocks and stones, the troubadour of continental drift and plate tectonics.
If only I could have a moment again, I’d remind him that he made such a difference to so many of us. He took us along and in that taking, he taught us so much about the world and about being in the world, about holding the things that are dear to us dearly close.
I’d tell him, “Jerry, you mean the world to me.” I would. It would only take a moment, and there would be a penguin, finding its way home.
In a 2005 Cynsations interview, Jerry talked about his path to publication:
When I hit upon using free verse to explain geologic phenomena, I received great encouragement from my peer groups. On submission of this work to major houses, I also received strong acceptance from editors but no agreement to publish. Therefore, I decided to self-publish.
That decision to self-publish led Jerry to author and librarian Jeanette Larson.
I met Jerry through SCBWI, and he asked me to help him figure out how to get his books into libraries. We sat down for about an hour at Austin Public Library to talk. I was so impressed by his willingness to listen and learn.
Jerry wanted to self-publish, and we worked on how he would benefit from setting up his own small press (Rockon Publishing). I remember him saying he couldn’t wait for traditional publishing.
He lived a whole lot longer than I think he expected, and it was a pleasure to see his books in print.
He will be missed, but his work lives on.
Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Wermund, Jr. Ph.D. from the Austin American-Statesman.
Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and serves as assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI.