For 29 years, Dean of Admission and Enrollment David Erdmann ushered in Rollins’ next generation.
David G. Erdmann, dean of admission and enrollment at Rollins for the past 29 years, died accidentally on October 7, 2013, while pursuing his passion, fly-fishing, on his favorite pond in Winter Park. Watch video from the memorial >>
“It’s not what you do that people remember. It’s how you make them feel.”
That’s what David Erdmann liked to say. He lived it too.
David made people feel good about themselves. He listened, asked, encouraged, and cared. He made everyone feel special because, in his eyes, everyone was—especially the students he welcomed to Rollins. “There is no average Rollins student,” was his mantra. “Each one is somehow exceptional.”
Dave was dean of admission and enrollment at Rollins for 29 years—a nearly unheard-of stint in a field where admission deans come and go, and burnout is an occupational hazard.
Burnout was not in Dave’s lexicon; burning with passion for his work was. He loved finding the right students for Rollins, then following those students throughout their time on campus and beyond. He went to athletic practices, games, theater performances—whatever students were involved in, he followed with pride and his trademark curiosity.
And he remembered everything. “He would walk into Beans [the campus cafeteria], go up to a group of students, and talk to them. He’d know all about them,” recalls Lorrie Kyle, executive assistant to the president. “Students loved him. Families loved him.”
The crescendo of David’s year was always convocation, the ceremonial opening of the school year. He would present the incoming class—each exceptional student—to the dean of faculty. It was a shining moment when his work, the students’ dreams, and the College’s spirit merged into one shared celebration.
For Lorrie, this year’s convocation remains her strongest memory of Dave. “He stood on stage watching the new class walk in, and he was beaming. He was so happy for them, so proud of them. I could literally see his belief in their future.”
Chandler Weiner ’14 will always be grateful for that belief. “I was told that Dean Erdmann got so fired up and passionate about my application that the rest of the admission board followed his lead to admit me,” he writes. “He saw something in me; he knew I could succeed; and he was sure that Rollins College was the place for me to shine.”
David was devoted to education: After earning an undergraduate degree from Colby College and master’s degrees from Brown University and University at Albany–SUNY, he spent more than 45 years in the academic field. He was a teacher and administrator at Trinity-Pawling School, The Albany Academy, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before joining Rollins in 1985.
President Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour remembers taking David and his wife, Susan, on a tour of Rollins while they were considering whether to make the move to Winter Park. Thad showed off Lake Virginia, throwing in a lighthearted mention of alligators. “Susan’s eyes got wider and wider, and David somehow signaled me that she had this image of alligators swallowing their young daughter, Lindsay, in one bite,” Thad recalls. “We almost lost them.”
Fortunately, the Erdmanns came to Rollins anyway. And their daughter, Lindsay, grew up to be a class of ’06 graduate, blooming under her father’s encouragement and support, as countless others have.
Holly Pohlig ’01, director of admission at Rollins, knows the power of that support. She signed on as an admission counselor in 2006; four years later, David promoted her. “He took a chance in making me director of admission, and it’s made all the difference in my life. He always made you feel you were important, and he pushed you to do your absolute best.”
Dave dressed the part of a dapper academic, wearing professorial wire-rim glasses and a jaunty bow tie. Sometimes he even sported a seersucker suit. In a rare instance of self-misperception, David believed he could walk into a room unnoticed. “Although he wasn’t tall or big in stature, he carried himself with distinction,” Holly says. “His smile is what I remember most.”
Dave’s playful sense of humor included a running gag with the admission staff. Invariably at the beginning of a meeting, he’d sit in a chair set a little too low. “Did someone lower this chair?” he’d ask, as if a co-worker had intentionally played a trick on him. He always got a laugh, and—not coincidentally—the meetings unfolded with a light, relaxed tone.
Financial Aid Assistant Donna Siao recalls the many times he walked down the hallway of the Rinker Building, calling out, “Are you home?” as he passed each office, garnering cheery greetings in return. “The dean had this magical ability of spreading sunshine wherever he went,” she says.
“He was so easy to talk to,” Holly remembers. “As soon as he talked to you, he made you feel special. He would ask, ‘What’s your thing?’ That was his phrase.”
David’s thing, other than his twin passions of family and work, was fly-fishing. He fished in Winter Park as well as on his extensive travels for the admission office. In fact, just days before his death, he went fly-fishing during a recruiting trip to Colorado. His hosts were the proud parents of a new Rollins student, Brooke Bumgarner ’17. Brooke’s father, Chuck, and David walked the stream all day, fishing from 8 a.m. until nightfall. Brooke’s mother reported, “Both he and Chuck had grins from ear to ear!”
Brooke wrote a long letter to President Lewis Duncan after hearing of David’s death. In part, it said:
Dean Erdmann came to my high school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, each fall and set up a table about Rollins. I met him my junior year in high school. He was one of the biggest reasons I chose Rollins to continue my education.
Dean Erdmann was one of the most sincere and influential people that I had the pleasure of knowing. I studied in Argentina during my senior year in high school, and once a month I received emails from him making sure I was doing well and always curious about my experiences abroad. I remember him joking that he would send me a fly-fishing rod in the mail!
Last spring he held a big dinner for the families of students who go to/were headed to Rollins. On move-in day he was even waiting outside my dorm ready to personally welcome me and help me with anything I needed! My parents always felt very secure in my being here because of him.
I am still very shocked that he is really gone.
The sport of fly-fishing, in which the angler casts a nearly weightless lure, requires tremendous grace and patience. It tends to be a silent enterprise, a world pared down to the elements of water, air, and nature. In many ways, it personifies the man David was and the work he did: a meticulous search for the perfect catch, a joyful excursion into a river of possibility.