With plenty of beer, friends and family remember Follmann
By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter
Friends, colleagues, and family of Erich Follmann, UAF wildlife biology professor, celebrated his life the best way they knew how: with beer, barbecue and ribald stories.
More than 100 people gathered at the UAF Large Animal Research Station (LARS) on Saturday, August 7, to honor the life of Follmann, who died July 26 following a heart attack. As more and more people arrived, the picnic tables filled up with potluck food, the barbecue was grilling away, and the beer tent handed out free cups of Silver Gulch beer to the 21-and-older crowd. Each cup of beer had a “The Far Side” comic strip pasted on the side. Follmann loved that comic, and would often incorporate it into his lectures, according to Jon Dehn, a UAF research associate professor and friend of Follmann’s. Jon Dehn’s wife, Lara, earned her doctorate under the guidance of Follmann and now works in UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences department.
“He was the best of us,” Lara Dehn said, tearing up a little. A person would have an easier time butting heads with one of the nearby musk oxen than finding somebody who disagreed with that statement. Ramona Scriber, who originally met Follmann 12 years ago at the state virology lab, described him as a, “good man. Quiet man. It was a big loss.” Tom Paragi, who works for the Department of Fish and Game, met Follmann 25 years ago and credited him with working hard to get his students involved with the Alaska chapter of the Wildlife Society. Don Ritter worked with Follmann at the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) and called his relationship with Follmann “purely honest.” Don Hartbauer, also with IAB, described Follmann as, “a special guy. Good researcher.”
The tables that weren’t laden with picnic fare held photographs: Follmann as a young boy sitting on Santa’s lap, Follmann as a high school student, Follmann throughout his career as a wildlife biologist. A blown-up photo of Follmann holding a whale ovary and smiling perfectly summed up the man. Torsten Bentzen was one of Follmann’s graduate students. Unaware that the event was providing free, catered beer, Bentzen had brought a case to the memorial. Bentzen was circumspect though.
“Erich wouldn’t want there to be a shortage of beer,” Bentzen said. Bentzen described a time at a San Diego convention when Follmann was unable to order a beer at a restaurant because of a recent surgery. When Bentzen ordered a beer, Follmann joked that Bentzen had “passed the test.”
Follmann’s research passion was the arctic fox, but he also worked extensively with marine mammals, including polar bears and whales. As a professor and academic adviser, Follmann dedicated himself to his students. Craig George graduated with his Ph.D last winter, and Follmann awarded him his degree in May. George said that what set Follmann apart was dedication.
“There’s no way in hell I would’ve finished [my doctorate] with any other advisor,” George said. Others at the memorial echoed that sentiment, saying that Follmann cared deeply for his students and encouraged them to live balanced lives.
In the original version of this article, we incorrectly spelled Professor Erich Follmann’s name. We apologize for the error and have since corrected it.