A sweet sailor fades into the sunset

Ed Neubauer

Ed Neubauer.

Ed Neubauer was many things to many people.

To thousands of kids he taught over the course of 36 years in the Hawthorne School District, he was a relentlessly upbeat and encouraging figure in their lives, one who took groups of kids on camping trips, helping bring a sense of self-sufficiency to many at-risk students.

To the thousands of adults and kids who went the Redondo Beach Recreational Sailing program, Neubauer was a steady hand at the helm, a man who taught novice sailors for three decades and eventually rebuilt a sagging program, sharing his love of the ocean with generations to come.

To his friends, colleagues and family, Neubauer was that rarest of persons: someone who not only saw the good in people but who had the ability to bring out that quality in others.

“That was a big hobby of his,” said Sharry Neubauer, his wife of 39 years. “He just never ran out of special people. He just kept finding them. If they wanted to learn how to sail but couldn’t learn, they could at least come along for the ride. I knew so many good people through him…He said there was an endless supply, and I guess he was right.”

Neubauer died Jan. 3 after a 16-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67. A memorial service for Neubauer was held last Friday at the Redondo Beach Historic Library.

“It was standing room only, folks from many different walks of life,” said Mike Witzansky, the city’s director of Recreation and Community Services. “Ed clearly was somebody who just managed to make a difference to a variety of communities, whether it was at the school district, the city sailing program, or just people he would meet anywhere….His sincerity endeared him to just about everybody he met.”

“He was respected and loved,” said Fred Williams, a fellow sailing instructor. “That is the deal – I mean deeply respected and loved. This is a huge loss. He was a staunch, loyal friend, someone you could take your troubles to. If you asked him for help, he was going to do something.”

Neubauer was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and came to California with his family as a child. As a young man, he worked in Alaska, counting salmon as they went upstream in remote wilderness areas. He left that job when his draft card came and up joined the Navy, serving in Vietnam during the war. He returned to California after his military service and attended Long Beach State University.

He met Sharry while standing in line for student registration. Typically, he helped her the very first time they met – she’d come to registration without any money, and he gave her the money to pay her fee.

“I thought I was really special, this stranger loaning me money,” she recalled. “I found at later it wasn’t just me that was special, but that was okay…They called him Easy Ed, and he would help almost anybody. He was just a wonderful guy and luckily I was early to recognize it, and lucky to be with him all that time. It wasn’t long enough, but it was quite a while.”

The couple both launched long careers as teachers and found a home in Redondo Beach, where they raised three sons – Jason, Justin, and Jonas – and became deeply entrenched in the community. Neubaeuer discovered sailing as a means to relieve the stress during his first years of teaching.

“Teaching is kind of stressful,” Sharry said. “Some of the kids you deal with are kind of difficult, and Ed just wanted to be so patient with them. Going out sailing is what really helped him do that, with humor. It relieved the stress. He’d come home and say, ‘You know, this job is kicking my butt.’ But he’d go sailing and come back and go, ‘You know what? Everything is pretty good.’”

Naturally, he wanted to share the peace he found on the water with others, and so he soon became a sailing instructor. He proved especially gifted at connecting with young sailors in Redondo’s sailing program. One of his supervisors, Dan Smith, recalled a 13-year-old girl who admittedly was unenthusiastically taking the sailing course. Somehow, however, after only one day on the water with Ed, she went home and read the entire sailing manual in a single night.

“He just had kind of a way with kids, especially with at-risk kids,” Smith said. “It was like, ‘Here it is. You can do it.’”

He made a deep impact within the Hawthorne School District, where a library is named after him and a tree outside one school – dubbed “Ed Wood” – was planted in his honor after his retirement. He famously came to school one day wearing mismatched shoes – he didn’t want to wake Sharry and dressed in the dark – and thereafter the entire school would have one day a year on which every student and staff member came attired in mismatched shoes.

But most importantly, Neubauer never lost his passion or his ability to reach his students. He taught sixth grade most of his career. Many of his students later became teachers themselves.

“He had that kind of impact on people,” said Steve Tabor, assistant superintendent for the school district. “We talk so much these days about mentors, but Ed went beyond mentoring. He really influenced people. He really helped them one way or another, and made a difference in their lives for the positive. People just never forget that. You never have that feeling go away. It will affect people forever, and now, in turn, those people will affect other people, as well. It’s hard to describe.”

Neubauer also managed the Redondo Beach Youth Basketball program for several years, and about five years ago became the official program director for the city’s sailing program. He was credited with modernizing the program, both in its management practices and its equipment – he obtained grants that allowed the program to replace its entire fleet of seven boats.

“That was pretty much just Ed’s tenacity and his effectiveness within the sailing community,” Witzansky said.

“We were near ruin when he took over,” Williams said. “He completely turned it around and has made it a success…He rallied the troops.”

Fellow teacher and sailing instructor Barry Christensen said that even on his deathbed, Neubauer was thinking about others – he urged his friends to keep the sailing program shipshape. Christensen said that Neubauer will live on through the program and the countless lives he impacted.

“He was just so many different things,” Christensen said. “That is kind of an inspiration, that kind of kindness…Ed would always look for the good in somebody, and you’d see that and say, ‘Maybe I need to step up and be a little kinder too.”

“Let’s face it,” Witzansky said. “All any of us can hope for when we pass on is that we made a difference in our respective communities and that difference has been truly positive. Unquestionably, that has been the life Ed has left behind.”


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