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Edwin Henry Ettinger
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Birth: Aug. 6, 1931
Lehigh County
Pennsylvania, USA
Death: Jan. 21, 1999
Lehigh County
Pennsylvania, USA

Edwin was the only son of Henry Clauss Ettinger and Melva Ellen (nee Helfrich) Ettinger, named for his father's favorite uncle. He was the brother of Ruth (Ettinger) Duncan, Lucille May (Ettinger) Romberger, and Jane (Ettinger) Hunt. He belongs to the Ettinger family interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Allentown, PA, but per his wishes, was cremated and his ashes scattered at Ferry Beach at Saco, Maine.

I seem to recall hearing that when Ed was born he was a sickly child. In April of 2014 when I pored over church baptism records, that story came back to me. All his siblings were baptized at Grace Evangelical Congregational Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania months after their births, but Ed was baptized at home 13 days after birth. Knowing his playful nature, I suspect he would probably smile to know he'd made his Evangelical parents and preacher run like crazy on his behalf, worried about him, because he certainly worried them a lot more in years to come, and ultimately left the church to become (horrors!) a Unitarian.

When I think of Ed, I think of his love of Latino culture, and the evolution in his consciousness in recognizing and allowing others to know that he was gay. He was ahead of the curve on both issues in the US, and that didn't always make things easy for him.

Ed was a free spirit, fabulous cook, and had a way of looking at things that made you think twice. His garden was his pride and fed many a person, from its fresh summer offerings with its beautiful raised beds to its ingenious home-made cold frames squared with railroad ties. He had a cute, tense little laugh that wrinkled his nose and made him look like a naughty child. He told some tall tales, but only to make you laugh.

Ed made an art of living "frugally elegant". He was not poor, just smart, having gotten a nice retirement package from Bethlehem Steel and wanting it to last. Ed worked out for cheap at the local university gym, and often got stuff given to him by the caretaker of the place, including a used exercise bike that he gave me. He shopped at the Allentown Farmer's Market late on Saturdays, knowing the sellers had to go home soon, and hoping he could negotiate prices.

His apartment and later his house had wonderful arty objects arranged just right... a wooden tiki mask on a wall, an asymmetrical teak coffee table, a lacy carved wood screen, candles he'd made himself, all the right records from Streisand to Iron Butterfly, and some nice things that used to be my grandma's. He could make almost anything chic. I remember his wonderful black bean soup served with a dollop of cream floating on top. He used to run around town in his one indulgence - an old, immaculately-kept, red Karmann Ghia convertible.

He was onto Salsa dancing years before it became a craze, and he was good. He had easy hips and smooth steps, nothing forced. He was innately graceful anyway, like a cat, but took classes and went to Latin dance clubs. At first he went with a lovely woman named Marion, and later he stepped out with other people, as I would learn in years to come.

I don't think Ed ever felt very understood, nor do I think he much understood other people very well, but he always reached out in his funny way that many found discomfiting. He could be a little showy, a little demanding. I never had too much trouble; I was a kid, he was Ed, it was ok.

I remember one night that my aunt and uncle had come to visit from Connecticut and we all went out to dinner. My aunt and uncle and parents were in one car, while I rode with Ed in his. After dinner, on the way home, to make conversation and because I loved him and hated to think of him being alone, I said "Ed, you're getting older now, not old, but not a kid... do you think you'll ever get married?" He took a pause and looked closely at me sideways, and finally said "How old are you?" I replied "Fifteen, why?" He took another pause and said "I am a homosexual." I stared straight ahead for a minute and thought about that, until finally he asked "Does that make you feel any differently about me?" And I said "No" and meant it.

The only thing it changed was that it made me feel a little sad because I knew his family probably was never comfortable, especially not his macho dad who probably found his sissy son a real disappointment. I was sad because Ed was an older man and this was the Lehigh Valley, not famous for acceptance of "different" people... heck, it was a time that hadn't much begun to be ok with gay folks. I was sorry he had to deal with all that, because while he could seem brittle or abrasive, he was also gentle and the opinions of others meant a lot to him, and it meant he went into every situation wondering if he'd be found acceptable, and wondering how much he had to hide. What a burden.

But he made his way. He took up dancing, became enamored of Latino culture, traveled, gardened, cooked, shared stories with me about his past and present, including people he hoped to have real, long-term relationships with. And I'm glad to tell you that Ed finally did find a real, fine, good person who loved him for himself.

Knowing and loving Ed helped shape the way I think about people who are gay. Ed told me that he knew he liked boys from about the time he was 8 years old. He always identified more with girls. It wasn't a "lifestyle choice", it was just who he was. It frightened him a little. My mom backs his memory up; she remembers him as being artsy and graceful as a kid, and striking poses in front of the mirror... Ed vogue-ing before there was a word for it. If there's a runway in heaven, guaranteed, Ed is on it and looking fine.

Ed probably wouldn't have minded having a heart attack on the dance floor; what a way to go that would have been... and after all, he'd already had one heart attack early in his life. Instead, he went in a slightly different, but a wholly appropriate way... he had his big heart attack quietly at home alone one night while reading. I remember asking his partner "Was he reading a murder mystery or something like that?" and he laughed and said "Everybody asks me that, but no, he was reading a gardening book." Perfect.

Ed graduated from Lehigh Univeristy. His section from the 1953 yearbook read:

Edwin Henry Ettinger

-Ind. Psy. Allentown, Pa.

Lambda Chi Alpha alumni correspondent;
Glee Club section leader. Cliff Clefs; Lehigh
Outing Club.

Cleaning in February 2015, in fact, on my mom's (Ed's sister) birthday, I came across one of his letters to me in which he mentions that he's just had a $1700 cardiological exam, has angina, and is now on medication. He wrote it April 25th, 1993 and would not live six years more.

Edwin Henry Ettinger, 67, of 1214 Eaton Ave., Bethlehem, died Thursday, Jan. 21, in his home.

He was a computer programmer for the Bethlehem Steel Corp. for 20 years, retiring in 1982.

Born in Allentown, he was a son of the late Henry and Melva Ellen (Helfrich) Ettinger.

He was a member and past treasurer of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem.

He was an Army veteran of the Korean War.

He was a charter member of the Lehigh Valley Abortion Rights Association (LVARA); a life member of LEHIHO, Lehigh Homophile Organization, and marched with Vietnam veterans protesting against the war.

He also translated organic gardening literature into Spanish for the Commonwealth of Costa Rica.

Survivors: Sisters, Lucille, and Jane Hunt of Calif., and a companion, David M. Parees of Macungie.

Memorial services: 1 p.m. next Sunday in the church. Arrangements, David J. Boyko Funeral Home, Macungie.

Contributions: American Heart Association, N.E. District.


Written about Ed locally in the Morning Call:

The sun filters through the leaves of the 70-foot tall silver maple in Edwin Ettinger's back yard, its rays like gossamer awaiting a spider's climb.

The tree's massive branches, dressed in summer finery, spread like a green canopy over a white iron table and chairs.

It is quiet in Ettinger's urban oasis, the sounds of cars and trucks -- only about 100 feet away -- are muted by lush shrubbery, 21 raised garden beds and the immense tree.

In that serene setting in Bethlehem, Ettinger plants, weeds and harvests bushels of vegetables, herbs and hundreds of floral bouquets every year. And he does it without any insecticides, pesticides or commercial fertilizers.

Ettinger is a master of composting, using garden and kitchen wastes with other organic materials to produce rich, friable soil. He calls it "brown gold," crediting it as the key to his bountiful gardens.

"If you have healthy soil," he says, "you have healthy plants."

So positive about composting, Ettinger has spread the word about its value even to those he meets during his annual vacation. Last year, while touring the acres of gardens at the University of Costa Rica, Ettinger was asked by the head gardener if he knew how to feed plants organically. Ettinger was delighted to share his knowledge of compost.

When he returned that night to a native family -- where he stays on his annual Central America visit -- he remembered he brought along a copy of Robert Rodale's internationally known book, "The Basic Book of Organic Gardening." He photocopied the chapter on composting and had a Costa Rican friend translate some of the guidelines onto a tape for the gardener.

When Ettinger went back this year, the gardener showed with pride the results -- a 20-by-20-foot thatched roof shed, filled with bags of compost.

"They were spreading it and digging it into their soil," Ettinger recalls, "and they wanted more information." Ettinger had with him the Rodale Press book, "New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening," which he sold to the lead botanist at the university.

Ettinger, a 1982 retiree of Bethlehem Steel Corp. where he was a systems and programming analyst for 27 years, just doesn't stick a seed in the ground. He designs his raised garden beds during his Costa Rican vacation. He puts the information and his drawings into his computer in Bethlehem and then keeps track of the seed germination and the transplanting.

When he returns from Costa Rica, Ettinger begins planting hundreds of seeds in six-pack seed starters in his garage. Almost all those seeds come from the prior year's plants which fill the more-than-an-acre plot behind the Eaton Avenue home he bought about five years ago.

After the seeds germinate, he moves the seedlings to windows for the sunlight. Later, he transplants each seedling into a clay pot, one-third filled with a booster shot of his compost.

When Ettinger runs out of window space, he gives his tiny plants more sunlight by opening his garage doors. He does not have to worry about cold spring temperatures because he installed storm windows -- a gift from a friend -- in front of the garage door, creating a greenhouse effect.

Unless there is a blizzard or some unforeseen disaster, Ettinger is in his garden March 15 to 17, sowing the peas and onion sets. A few weeks later, he plants root crops, such as carrots and beets, and, when all danger of frost is over -- about May 15 -- most of the other plants.

But he never puts out peppers or eggplant -- easily harmed by unexpected dips in temperature -- until June 10. "Why put them out if they are going to be stressed?," he asks.

Walking through his gardens, Ettinger reaches for a pepper, shaped like a flower, that he has grown from seeds from Costa Rica. "It's good," he says, relishing each bite. He also taste-tests one of his unusual tomatoes which have yellow skins, but are red inside. Those tomatoes, he said, are picked before the first frost and will last until well after Christmas without any special storing requirements.

Ettinger began his gardens when he moved to an apartment with a large yard in Bethlehem about 20 years ago. With his landlord's permission, he dug a plot 4 feet by 35 feet, which expanded in the following years to 60 feet by 20 feet, more than a third of his landlord's yard.

Having read about organic gardening and being concerned about the effects of commercial sprays and fertilizers on the environment, Ettinger began his first compost pile.

The Organic Gardening magazine was his teacher in the beginning, but then he began his own experiments to assure the right nutrients were in the soil. The result: his vegetables thrived, as did the flowers he started planting about six years later.

At the back of his yard, Ettinger mixes his magic soil elixir. Hidden behind some bushes and trees is one of the prime ingredients -- a pile of aged manure. A few feet away is a fenced-in area where he disposes of garden and kitchen wastes before he shovels them to the first of two 3-1/2-foot-deep pits. Over that layer, he adds manure, then wets it down, a procedure he continues until the pit is filled.

The first pit is criss-crossed with pipes with holes in them which helps to keep the oxidation process going, says Ettinger. After two weeks, he moves the compost from that pit to the next one where it stays until he screens it and stores it in large garbage pails.

Ettinger likes the feel of the warm brown soil as it filters through his fingers. He says tests have shown that his compost is very good, with ample amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and organic matter. There is no odor from his compost.

Like an artist, Ettinger has designed his beds, not only for color, but to reduce the amount of lawn mowing.

One of his major tasks was to plant more than 500 pachysandras in a shady area where grass would not grow. It took him three years. But even before he began planting there, he spread 6-inches of manure to condition the soil.

Ettinger has a whimsical nature. In one spot, there is a round black globe on top of a stump. It is Ettinger's old bowling ball, now covered with a patina.

Underneath the big tree, he has placed a tiny stone bird, acquired in Mexico, on a very large piece of slate. By his swimming pool, stands a 3-foot-tall Tiki statue, standing amid spreading juniper. He calls that his lifeguard. "I like little jokes in my yard," he says.

He has created perennial gardens for shade plants and for those that like the sun. His herb garden provides seasonings for his meals as well as for the food he freezes and cans and gives to his neighbors.

Every summer when Ettinger goes to Maine, he brings back a truckload of round rocks which form borders along some of the beds.

Every year Ettinger surveys his oasis to determine what needs to be done to assure his plants have sufficient light and bring added beauty to the yard. While most of Ettinger's garden is filled with traditional plants and flowers, he enjoys adding some that are different or that are considered difficult to grow. He likes to raise celery and a special type of cilantro that is prized by Costa Ricans. He has a castor bean, more than 7 feet tall, a plant that has tomatoes on top and potatoes underground, and tomatoes crossed from a seed that came from Czechoslovakia with one developed at Rodale Farms.

Ettinger enjoys every minute in his garden, but admits it is tough in the spring when all the weeds must be controlled. That can take four to five hours a day. A favorite gardening task is pruning. He says he feels like an artist as he shapes a tree or a bush so that it will flourish.

Having had a heart attack before he was 40, Ettinger, now in his 60s, used meditation, yoga and gardening to control the stress in his life. He knows plants also can be stressed and that is why he makes sure they get tender, loving care throughout the growing season and have sufficient light and water, wind protection and are not growing too close together.

Relaxing under the big tree, Ettinger philosophizes about the verdant corner he has made for himself.

"I may not be saving money," he says, "but what I am doing is ecologically sound. And it gives me something to do every day. I am using my time in a constructive way, not taking jaunts to Atlantic City."
Family links: 
  Henry Clauss Ettinger (1900 - 1971)
  Melva Ellen Helfrich Ettinger (1903 - 1977)
  Ruth Emma Ettinger Duncan (1924 - 1995)*
  Lucille May Ettinger Romberger (1926 - 2012)*
  Edwin Henry Ettinger (1931 - 1999)
*Calculated relationship
Cremated, Ashes scattered.
Specifically: Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jun 21, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14665393
Edwin Henry Ettinger
Added by: sr/ks
Edwin Henry Ettinger
Added by: sr/ks
Edwin Henry Ettinger
Added by: sr/ks
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Wish you were alive to appreciate today's Supreme Court decision.
- sr/ks
 Added: Jun. 26, 2015

- sr/ks
 Added: Feb. 24, 2015

- Sharon
 Added: Jul. 7, 2014
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