Terence "Terry" James Acers
Humble Traveler, Joyful Pilgrim, Brilliant One
A hunter and a trapper. These were Terry’s first vocational aspirations. Terry grew up fishing and hunting in and around the small town of Ramsey, Minnesota, sometimes with his older brother but often alone, developing the discerning attention to the natural world that would presage his eventual entrance into technical sales, design, and engineering that became his vocation. He remained connected to the natural world as an avid avocation, spending long, happy hours paddling his solo canoe on Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, especially rivers. He loved the water.
Our first date—a blind date—was to the Prairie Home Companion Show (a popular Minnesota variety radio show taped live before an audience in a grand old St. Paul, Minnesota theatre) and it happened to be the Joke Show. What better introduction to Terry’s unique wit and delightful joie de vivre? We were both 29 years old and knew even that very night that ours was destiny. Two months later we were engaged and four months on we would marry in the small town of Marine on the St. Croix River, just north of our home in Stillwater, where we have lived for our 23 years of marriage.
Terry graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, a fitting discipline for a young man whose nickname was “the Professor,” but a knowledge he wore lightly. He may have possessed all the qualities of a Philosopher King but these coexisted, indeed developed indelibly, with his physical empiricism, his insatiable curiosity to see, touch, understand, and discover the complex physics of the real and tangible world. This perspicacious attention revealed itself in his approach to paddling a boulder-strewn set of river rapids—an elegant experience to witness such finesse, and for none but himself and the canoe, the paddle, the river, the Universe, simply an authentic expression of his complete and soulful connection to creation—and also to his vocation selling steam traps with his brother and father in their family business. Terry acquired an enormous CNC machine—a computer-controlled mill— with which to modify steam traps and other industrial equipment to meet customers’ requirements. He taught himself the complex and byzantine programs with which to animate the robotic arms to drill, to make those mechanical vestiges dance his intricate choreography, that a given block of metal might become a new thing, almost magically transformed by Terry’s alchemy.
Terry was an engineer by training and loved the technical aspects of his work; he loved to understand and solve puzzles. He approached each problem with a discerning curiosity, asking many thoughtful questions and listening with great patience and attention the replies, and these he incorporated into his schema. Personal relationships received the same treatment: he loved his clients and strove to remember their names, their stories, their joys and tragedies, even those colleagues whom he would see but infrequently.
A hard hat, steel-toed boots, and a fire-retardant shirt with his name embroidered on the pocket in cursive script (leading some who didn’t know him to call him “Larry,” which he gamely responded to without correction): this was his common work uniform, but he could also be found in his business casual, presenting training sessions to plant operators and engineers, and then later still, in a suit and tie attending to corporate matters and international contracts. Work trips took him to India frequently, and also Brazil, Spain, Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, Paris, British Colombia, all over the US, Italy, England, Montreal, Ontario, and Quebec.
Family, friends, and neighbors knew this same magnanimity from Terry; he gave generously of his time and talents. People called upon him with their plumbing emergencies (David? Quinn?) and he came at whatever hour with generous good cheer and a tool box tricked out with everything necessary to solve the problem. He helped a friend build a cabin, helped another refurbish a gutted historic house, and built a wood-fired sauna in his twenties, which stands behind our house today and we still enjoy. As I write this obituary, I sit before a wood stove that Terry dreamed up and then installed, requiring a chimney liner that had him standing up on the rooftop with Bijou, his helper, clad in his lumberjack-checked wool and leaning on the chimney like the modern-day Santa Claus that he was. Everyday was Christmas.
Gifted with a quick mind, Terry learned to speak Spanish capably to communicate with plant workers in foreign lands, whose education was generally confined to technical matters but who rarely spoke English. Terry learned to play the guitar in his 30s and loved to play and sing to our children. His musical tastes were eclectic, ranging from old Smithsonian Folkways and Bob Dylan, to the Latin music he’d buy or bum off cab drivers while traveling in Central or South America. He loved also to sing out of the hymnal at church, however off-key or sharp or flat the whole communal presentation was; he was freed in that context and unselfconscious. Terry was a terrific dancer. He could move smoothly from polka to foxtrot to swing to waltz to blues to Cajun and never miss a beat. We danced it all, never counting steps, laughing and loving and thoroughly enjoying ourselves, never for show, always for the joy of the dance and being together. Ours was a big love, an epic love.
A more generous man you will not find. We opened our home to foreign exchange students from Sweden, Spain, and Colombia, and to family and friends who have, from time to time, needed shelter and a place to hang their hats.
The joy of Terry’s life was our family life together. Joe was born when Terry was 21 years old, hastening his entrance into the adult world, adult responsibilities. Thoughts of entering academia took a back seat to making living and paying bills. Terry took his responsibility seriously, loving Joe into the engineer he has become today and soon-to-be father. Terry delighted in Joe’s wife Tagen and her daughter Alice, our first grandchild, soon to celebrate her 10th birthday.
Meade was conceived at the top of the world, amidst glaciers and grizzly bears and endless, rolling tundra. Terry and I spent one month paddling the Horton River in Canada, dropped off by float plane with our bags of gear and our two solo canoes to paddle to the sea. Terry conceived the big dream for this trip and we conceived our eldest baby, our beloved Meade, now 21 years old. Meade is married to wonderful Collin, and the two of them have just bought a house in Scandia, just north of Stillwater and Marine. Meade graduated college early with a degree an architecture degree and is using her excellent designing, drawing, and blueprint reading skills at a job selling industrial equipment for Carbis Solutions of South Carolina. Meade had worked in the field with Terry doing steam trap surveys, reading maps, climbing stories-high ladders with the same good humor, energy and professionalism that Terry lived and breathed. Meade called Terry almost daily to share stories, understand industrial applications and settings and to ask questions, to generate ideas about her new job, and just to laugh and talk and enjoy each other’s company. Meade traveled with Terry with the Acers company, working together in Mississippi, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Illinois. Meade says her dad was her best friend.
Terry called Bijou his “tough nut” because she is and was always so fiesty. Bijou is 19 years old now, working one part-time job as a climbing instructor at a bouldering gym and another as a nanny for 5-month-old twins, all while attending her third year of university full time, with the intention to create a bespoke business degree to work ultimately in the outdoor industry. Bijou has Terry’s sharp wit and kept him and all of us in stitches. The two of them took a trip to Michigan to buy and retrieve a Boston Whaler boat—a grand adventure. The two also enjoyed a work trip for Terry to Las Vegas, with Bijou tagging along to spend some devoted time with Dad. They thought it was a crazy hoot to walk the seedy strip, but enjoyed more authentically visiting the Atomic Energy Museum and driving to the Hoover Dam, then returning to a night show of Cirque de Soleil. Bijou brought Terry so much joy just by being around, as she chose to live at home during her first official year of university. She showered him with her quirky and sophisticated take on matters small and large—a consummate storyteller like her dad. Terry loved her singing and cooking and joking and effervescence. Bijou says she felt deeply seen and understood by her dad.