Ronald Wayne Yerkes June 8, 1942 - June 22, 2023
Ronald Wayne Yerkes died peacefully in his home after a nine-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. He often shared his philosophy that you have to play the hand you’re dealt: he did so through the good times and challenging times, facing each day with courage, purpose, and love. He expressed enormous gratitude for the many loving hands and hearts that accompanied him on his last journey, providing care and comfort to him and his beloved wife of 61 years, Patricia.
Ron was born on June 8, 1942 to Donald Ross Yerkes and Henrietta Marie Gable Yerkes in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The second of what would be three sons, Ron enjoyed country and small-town life in Spring Mount, Pennsylvania. Living during his formative years with both parents and grandparents, Ron learned the disciplines of life on a small farm including gardening, animal husbandry, and machinery repair. He often said of his father that “if Dad can’t fix it, it isn’t broken”; Ron’s know-how would come to match that of his handy father. This skill led to a purposeful boyhood and also to some shenanigans with his older brother Derwood, including some epic car races on backcountry roads in their rebuilt automobiles. Raised in the Lutheran Church, Ron’s faith remained foundational throughout his life.
After he began attending junior high school in neighboring Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, Ron met Patricia Ann Rawn. At a memorable dance early in high school, Ron knew he was smitten when he saw Pat in a fabled red dress. The two remained high school sweethearts, graduated in 1960, and navigated two years apart while they attended college (he at Drexel University studying mechanical engineering, and she at West Chester University studying elementary education). When Ron accepted his first cooperative engineering assignment in Oakland California, they married on June 17, 1962 and moved west together on the first of many adventures. Ron and Pat would go on to complete their college studies, and Ron accepted a position at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey. He simultaneously completed a Master’s Degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. While in New Jersey, Ron and Pat began to gather dear friends whom they would know for a lifetime and to create their own family. Their first, Amy Marie, was born in 1966.
Ron’s journey next took his family to Center Valley, Pennsylvania and a long career at Bethlehem Steel. He initially worked in the research labs, but longed to be on the production floor. He rose to manage the design process in the roll shop, where his engineering skills generated iconic steel products used in building projects around the world. While in Center Valley, Ron and Pat welcomed three more children: Brenda Lynn (1968), Christine Ann (1970), and Michael Ross (1973). Ron accepted a three-year transfer to the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna, New York, where he and his family learned to love winter (having moved there just in time for the Blizzard of 1977!). Ron and Pat returned to Pennsylvania in 1979 and built their longtime home in Coopersburg. There, they returned to an active life in the congregation of St. James Lutheran Church. A secondary later-life career in real estate sales sustained Ron’s interest in helping people to find just the right home, and to improve some along the way. Ron cherished his family, teaching them the same values of hard work, faith, and love that he had learned from his parents; he also provided time for fun through large family gatherings, adventures to the beach, skiing trips, and camping excursions.
But it was his adventures with Pat that became legendary. He often chuckled at the improbability that “these two kids from Schwenksville” traveled around the world, visiting dozens of countries on seven continents. They loved the cultural immersion of extended “home stay” travels and the amazement afforded by such experiences as a safari in southern Africa and a walk with the penguins in Antarctica. Their love of cultural exchange also led them to welcome several European exchange students into their home, one of whom would become like another son to Ron and Pat.
Having successfully fledged their children into adulthood, Ron and Pat would soon face one of their greatest challenges: the illness and subsequent death of their beloved Christine. Great love saw them through this time of great sadness. Shortly thereafter, retirement from their respective careers allowed them to move to Hertford, North Carolina, where they lived in a beautiful community on the Albemarle Sound, immersing themselves in golfing, boating, and a new social life that brought new friends and adventures to their open-hearted lives.
When Ron and Pat returned to Pennsylvania to live closer to their family, they built a new home (yes, their third!) in Mechanicsburg. They joined Trindle Spring Lutheran Church and were active in many local social organizations, including the Lions Club. While in Mechanicsburg, Ron again felt the calling to purposeful work and started a small company called Custom Home Improvements. His signature construction was a four-season porch that leveraged his engineering design and production skills; he was proud to have provided more than 100 clients with a place to catch a cool breeze in the summer and the sun’s warm rays in the winter.
Ron often recalled the pleasure of a “pump house day” when the air was cool but the sun was warm if he lay on the roof of his boyhood farm’s south-facing pump house. Throughout his life, Ron enjoyed a good catnap in the sunshine, and it is true to character that he shared this pleasure with so many.
Pat shared that in their younger days, Ron said that going to heaven would be the greatest travel adventure of his life. She looks forward to joining him when her time comes.
Ron is survived by his wife Patricia Ann Yerkes, daughter Amy Schmaljohn (and husband Alan), daughter Brenda Dunkelberger (and husband Jeffery), son Michael (and wife Nicole Moratti); five grandchildren (Matthew Jacob Dunkelberger, Sarah Margaret Dunkelberger, Olivia Moratti Yerkes, Jacob Ross Moratti Yerkes, and Charlie Moratti Yerkes); and younger brother James Eden Yerkes.
Services: A celebration of Ron’s life will be held Friday, July 7th at 11 a.m. in the Trindle Spring Lutheran Church 14 State Road, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050.
In lieu of flowers, the family invites memorial donations to Trindle Spring Lutheran Church (14 State Road, Mechanicsburg PA 17050) or Hospice of Central Pa (1320 Linglestown Rd., Harrisburg PA 17110; hospiceofcentralpa.org).
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