by Tom Parisi
The NIU community is mourning the loss of Dan Edwards, a well-known glassblower in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry whose artistry and dedication to the university touched many lives on campus and beyond.
Edwards, 60, was killed last week in a motorcycle accident that also seriously injured his wife Diane, a longtime secretary in the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences (FCNS).
The accident occurred on the morning of Wednesday, April 23. The Edwards were on their way to work from their home in Rochelle when the couple’s motorcycle collided with a semi tractor-trailer truck near the interchange of I-39 and Route 38.
Diane Edwards, 58, was taken to Rochelle Community Hospital and then transferred via helicopter to Rockford Memorial Hospital, according to Rochelle police. Colleagues said she was recuperating after surgery.
“We’re just in shock,” said Laura Smart, FCNS chair, recalling how Dan had brought a birthday cake to the department for his wife last December. “They were so in love.”
The Edwards were each intending to retire in July and were preparing to break ground on a new home in west-central Wisconsin, colleagues said. Dan Edwards had spent 16 years as glassblower in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where he is remembered as a man of uncommon thoughtfulness.
Many of his colleagues and friends have personal reminders of his handiwork – glass-blown rings, earrings, beaker mugs and Christmas ornaments that he made and handed out as tokens of friendship.
“My spouse Barbara and I were deeply saddened to hear of the accident that claimed the life of Dan Edwards and seriously injured his wife Diane,” NIU President John Peters said. “Our hearts go out to the Edwards family and their many friends and colleagues on campus.
“Dan was a well-liked, artistic man with a very thoughtful side that touched many people,” Peters added. “He knew I enjoyed fly fishing, in fact, and each holiday season would present us with a glass-blown fishing-related ornament that he had made. His professionalism and kindness will be greatly missed.”
Dan came to NIU in 1991 after working for chemical companies in his native Wisconsin. Most chemistry departments at major universities employ glassblowers to provide specialized glassware for student experiments and faculty research.
“His contributions and dedication to the students of the university were just tremendous,” said Jon Carnahan, chemistry and biochemistry chair. “He was really a guy who went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Edwards also made glassware for other university departments, performed demonstrations for area schools and volunteered his time each year to conduct a glassblowing demonstration and sale that raised thousands of dollars for the NIU Chemistry Club.
He made beaker mugs with the NIU logo that have been presented each year to chemistry graduates in a tradition started by Edwards’ predecessor, Ed Hyland. The Chemistry Club gives out an award each year named in honor of both glassblowers.
Edwards also presented at glassblowing symposia nationwide and was active in the American Scientific Glassblowers Society. In 1999, the society presented him with a national award for service.
“He just thoroughly enjoyed what he did,” said Dave Ballantine, an NIU professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “He loved working on jobs for the faculty, but he also loved doing things artistically. Every year at the glassblowing demonstration he’d come up with something new – from humming birds and dragons to seahorses and different kinds of earrings.
“He was always thinking about what he could do for somebody,” Ballantine added. “He knew my wife had breast cancer a couple years ago, and every year at the glass sale he’d make something special – earrings or a pendant or a ring – for her to take home.”
Edwards took personal interest in the achievements of students. And when alumni would return to the chemistry department, they would often gravitate to Edwards, colleagues said. He also was a man who loved conversation and a good laugh. He was a regular at the Blackhawk Food Court in the Holmes Student Center, where he knew the workers by name.
“Dan was truly original,” said Andy Small, lab manager for the chemistry and biochemistry department. “He was the kind of guy who always had a little something for you. A common expression around the department was always, ‘Hey, there are doughnuts in the glass shop.’ He was just extremely generous and kind-hearted. A person couldn’t ask for a friend more meaningful and thoughtful than Dan.”
In his retirement, Edwards had planned to concentrate on the artsy side of his craft – and to fish. He was an expert fisherman who had won tournaments outside of Illinois, friends said.
“He had been doing a lot of dreaming about his retirement, about building a new house and moving up to Wisconsin and being able to fish,” said longtime friend Larry Gregersen, a senior lab mechanic in the chemistry department. “That’s what we heard probably for the last six months were his dreams.”
In addition to his wife, survivors include Edwards’ daughters, Danielle Scherf of Waukesha, Wis., and Nicole (Matthew) Williams of Bloomington, Ill.; and three grandchildren, Alexandria and Jaiden Scherf and Kaitlyn Williams.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday at Pagenkopf Funeral Home, 1165 E. Summit Ave., Oconomowoc, Wis. followed by a funeral service officiated by the Rev. Luke Dye.
Memorials can be made to the NIU Chemistry Club, Edwards-Hyland Award fund, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115.