Ned was born to American parents in Warsaw, Poland, where his father was on assignment for the YMCA helping resettle World War I refugees. William Edward Lauterbach, Sr., of German descent, and Margaret Van Niewaal Lauterbach, of Dutch descent, had both grown up in small-town Iowa.
When Ned was two, Will, Sr., accepted a position as Secretary (akin to executive director) of the YMCA in the small town of Kewanee, Illinois, where Ned, who was to remain an only child, grew up and graduated from high school. Ned’s later reminiscences about childhood almost always touched on his great love for his father. A gentle and compassionate man, Will imparted lessons to his son about integrity, inclusivity, community-building, open-mindedness, fairness and service that later guided Ned as he himself became a civic leader and community-builder in so many arenas in his own life.
When the Depression hit, the YMCA could not afford to stay open during the summers, so Will took the family camping, traveling to National Parks all over the Lower 48 in their little Whippet. The experience left Ned with a life-long love of the outdoors and a reverence for America’s system of public lands.
When it came time to choose a college, the future course of Ned’s life was charted when he came across a brochure in his school library. He was captivated by the co-op program at Antioch College, in which students alternate coursework on campus with stints at jobs around the country. Since he’d always known he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up, his parents thought perhaps he should consider a technical college, but Ned’s mind was made up.
For the rest of his life, Ned would talk about all the ways that the small Ohio liberal arts college opened his eyes. After graduating second in his high school class (to his best friend Jake Bennison) without ever, he said, having opened a book, he was academically challenged for the first time. He loved his classes, his professors and his fellow students. On a co-op job in the Deep South, he witnessed for the first time the shocking realities of segregation. On another job at a public works project, he abandoned his plan to become a civil engineer when he found out that the head engineer was going home for the evening “to his car” because, he told Ned, “When you’re a civil engineer, you’re always traveling from one place to another.” Ned wanted no part of that lifestyle: “I wanted a home and a family.”
Most important, at an Antioch College dance Ned met the love of his life, Alberta Gertrude Johnson. He and Albe were married in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois, on the day in 1945 that FDR was buried. A few months later, they graduated and moved to Chicago, along with three other Antioch couples with whom they would remain life-long friends. (Unlike most of the men of his generation, Ned never served in World War II; when he went to enlist, his physical exam revealed a heart murmur.)
At his first job, with Armour Research Foundation, Ned was assigned to a project evaluating cutting oils for Shell Oil, which he completed while doing graduate work in engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology. But he found research unappealing; “I wanted to see a project through from design to manufactured product.” So he left for a job at Dole Refrigerating Company, where, for more than 25 years, he designed truck refrigeration units, earning several patents along the way and ending up as the company’s sales manager.
During this time, Ned and Albe raised five children, first in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park and then two miles away in the suburb of Evanston, where they moved in 1961. Ned was always busy with home improvement and repair projects – tiling the bathroom, refinishing the staircase, creating built-in bunkbeds, repairing electrical and plumbing fixtures – and was never so happy as when he was in his basement tool shop (although friends and family liked to joke that some of his projects lingered for years in various states of incompletion). He built a treehouse in the backyard in Rogers Park in the 1950s that was the hit of the neighborhood kids and then another one 45 years later in Evanston, when he was in his late 70s, for his grandchildren; the later one featured a dumbwaiter for hoisting up lunch, a retractable ladder for keeping strangers out, and canvas windows that rolled up and down.
Always up for group outdoor activities, Ned loved leading friends and family on Lake Michigan smelt fishing expeditions during the summers and tobogganing trips during the winters. For vacations, Ned packed up the station wagon and took the family to rented cabins on lakes in Michigan and Minnesota – often with their Antioch friends and their kids – and, when the kids were old enough, on camping trips. With an engineer’s focus and precision, he produced wondrous drainage systems to keep water out of the tents and strung up tarps among the trees for the kids to play cards beneath on rainy days.
Ned liked to tell how his oldest child Steve, then a young adult, called one day and said, “Dad, you taught me how to camp; now I want to teach you to backpack, but you have to quit smoking and start exercising.” Ned never smoked another cigarette and began a daily three-mile walk regimen that he stuck to well into his 80s. And, he took up backpacking with gusto, enjoying dozens of trips with family and friends over the years in every major mountain range in the country.
Ned’s long journey of civic engagement began at the High Ridge YMCA in Rogers Park, where he was president of the Y’s Men’s Club, ran the organization’s annual Christmas tree sale, and got the whole family involved in Y activities, earning them “Family of the Year” in 1960. At the same time, he served on the board of the Chicago chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). After moving to Evanston, the family got involved in the Unitarian Church of Evanston and were founding members of the breakaway Lakeshore Unitarian Society in 1963, where Ned headed up the search committee that hired the group’s first minister.
Always active, together with Albe, in the Democratic Party of Evanston, in 1976 Ned won a seat on the Evanston City Council, on which he served with great diligence and enthusiasm for two terms. His role as alderman of his beloved Third Ward gave him the opportunity for what he would later call the proudest achievement of his life. The city was about to sell off Noyes Elementary School to private developers; enrollment in the city had declined and the building was deemed beyond repair. But having just returned from a League of Cities convention in Seattle, where he attended a mind-expanding presentation on the critical role of the arts in the vitality of a city, Ned had other ideas. He proposed renovating the historic 1892 building and turning it into a community arts center. The Mayor made a counterproposal: the city would pay for half the renovation; the rest would have to come from private funds. When the Council voted its approval, Ned rolled up his sleeves and worked tirelessly to bring in the money to make his vision a reality. Now, 45 years later, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center is a vibrant hub of the arts in Evanston.
But the Center wasn’t the only passion that Ned’s Council service engendered. Having helped create the city’s first Department of Human Services, Ned met a young Methodist minister who’d been hired by the city to head a task force to assess the needs of the city’s adolescents and to ensure that all youth were receiving the support and services they needed to transition successfully to adulthood. Ned saw in Don Baker, 24 years his junior, the qualities he’d admired in his own father – quiet idealism, vision, integrity and a belief in the goodness of humanity – and he eagerly took Don under his wing. Over the years, long after leaving the Council, Ned supported Don in building Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella, which grew out of the task force) into a thriving Evanston institution, as a board member, advocate, fundraiser, mentor and friend. “I was lucky,” said Don. “Every social services organization in Evanston loved Ned and tried to get him on their board.” Ned was proud to be part of the celebration when Don retired from Y.O.U. in 2011.
Through eight years of discussions on weighty issues – development, zoning, budgeting, condo conversion regulations, social services, rent control, race relations – Ned forged strong bonds with his fellow aldermen. As, one by one, they left the City Council, his cohort began meeting socially to talk about everything from Evanston politics to their grandchildren. They dubbed themselves “Beer & Popcorn” and gathered once a month for decades, until Ned was well into his 90s.
Ned declined to run for a third term, but the city wasn’t done with him yet. For his engineering expertise, he was recruited into service on Evanston’s Flood and Pollution Control Commission, where he helped oversee the overhaul of the municipal sewer system, a massive public works project that took years to complete.
Shortly after Ned was elected to the City Council, Dole Refrigerating Company moved to Tennessee. Since Ned had no intention of leaving the city he had come to love so fiercely, he found himself, then in his late 50s, looking for a new job. “Best thing that ever happened to me,” he would later say. He became a sales rep for Douglas and Lomason, a truck body company to which he’d sold refrigeration units in his previous job. Ever the extravert who loved talking strangers, he had the time of his life traveling throughout the Midwest getting to know dairy farmers and beer distributors – and earning more money than he’d ever imagined possible as a refrigeration engineer.
Albe finally persuaded Ned to retire, at 70, and the two of them began two decades of international adventures together. Having never been out of the country except to Canada until their 65th birthdays, when their children gave them a trip to Machu Picchu, Ned and Albe put on their hiking shoes and fearlessly ventured, without groups or itineraries, into the small villages and outposts of Burma, Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, Portugal, England, Spain, France, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Nepal, China, Vietnam, Laos, Botswana, Sweden, Cambodia, and South Africa. With no facility for foreign languages, Ned nonetheless managed to make friends and get invited to dinner with people who’d never before met an American, let alone could speak English.
In between travels, Ned and Albe puttered, gardened, ate lunches on their back patio, attended triennial Lauterbach and Johnson family reunions, and enjoyed their four grandchildren, two of whom lived across the alley. And Ned found yet another cause to champion, Housing Options, a small Evanston nonprofit providing supportive housing to people recovering from mental illnesses, on whose board he served in the early 1990s.
In 2009, Ned and Albe moved from the block on Forest Avenue where they’d live for 48 years to The Mather, a senior residence a mile away, between downtown Evanston and the lake. They not only joined many friends they’d known for decades, but also made new ones. Ned was, of course, recruited to serve on the Residents’ Council, but was best known for organizing the football lovers to gather on Sunday afternoons to watch the Bears. Ned brought the beer.
In 2010, Albe and Ned were recognized for their decades of service to the community with an Evanston City Council resolution designating the 700 block of Forest Avenue as “Lauterbach Way.”
Always devoted to his life partner and wife of 67 years, who was every bit his equal in her accomplishments and contributions to the community, Ned was an attentive and loving caretaker to Albe as her health declined in her final years. After she passed away in August, 2012, he missed her terribly. Alberta.ForeverMissed.com
Ned is survived by his children, Steve (Cathy Hobson) of Arnold, CA, Stew (Barb Swary) of Santa Rosa, CA, Chris of Silver Spring, MD, Katherine “Kacki” (Rick Grant) of Evanston, Amy (James Yurchenco) of Palo Alto, CA; and his four grandchildren, Claire Grant of Washington, DC, Eric Lauterbach of Santa Clara, CA, Jack Grant of Boulder, CO, and Nathan Lauterbach of Santa Rosa.