John Stevens Merriam, 87, passed away on March 29, 2021 in Flemington, New Jersey after a long illness. Born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1933 to Elizabeth Brigham Merriam and Francis Fuller Merriam, John grew up in Mountain Lakes and Shrewsbury. Following graduation from Mountain Lakes High School, John attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before serving in the United States Army in Europe, primarily Germany, from 1953-1957. John graduated from Lafayette College in 1959, after marrying his sweetheart of many years, Gerry Gearhart, and starting a family. He worked briefly at IBM in the early 1960s, and then embarked on a long career at Gearhart Chevrolet and BMW, a family-owned business in Denville, New Jersey. He retired in 2003.
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People familiar with the Merriam family think of Gerry as the rider, but as a young man, John took pride in his membership in the Essex Troop, a cavalry dating to the late 19th century which required members to practice drills on horseback. John recounted with pleasure taking the train to Newark to practice his equestrian skills in the Armory, and riding horses throughout Boonton and Mountain Lakes when he and Gerry were young. He also fell in love with flying at an early age, eventually earning his pilot’s license and becoming an expert at piloting his cherished Cessna Skylane. Many family members and friends will remember John’s firm shout “Clear!” before turning on the Cessna and taxiing to the runway at Morristown airport. On one memorable July 4th, he flew family members over a number of local fireworks displays, allowing us to see many small but beautiful celebrations illuminate the landscape.
His military service in Europe helped spark John’s life-long love of travel, which he generously shared with extended family and friends on trips via horseback, foot, barge, boat and train (as well as more conventional means, such as cars!) throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and South America. John reveled in learning about new cultures, foods, and wine, and took great pleasure instilling that love in his children and grandchildren. When asked which country he would most like to visit again, he quickly responded “New Zealand” because of its extraordinary natural landscape and friendly citizens, but he also seemed to truly love the countryside and foods of Italy.
John’s most enduring and sustained passion was caring for Esteburne Farm (Solebury, Pennsylvania) which he and his family have owned since the late 1970s. He never ceased to keep the landscape in anything but immaculate condition, and found tremendous satisfaction in all things related to the farm. Perhaps nothing gave him more pleasure than getting up early, putting on work clothes, making a “to-do” list, and going into the day to operate the many tools—tractors, lawn mowers, and chain saws—he used to keep the farm looking perfect.
John is predeceased by his sisters Betty Merriam Bay and Margaret “Pam” Merriam Treimann. He is survived by his wife Gerry and his children and their families: Susan Merriam; Deborah Merriam and Jean Wilcox; Lynn and Steve Merriam and their children Susan and Michael Merriam. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in John’s name to the World Wildlife Fund: https://www.worldwildlife.org/
A celebration of life service will be held sometime this summer.