Shared passions forged everlasting bond with ‘Uncle Steve’

My good friend Stephen Ehle passed away Jan. 15. I affectionately and respectfully referred to him as Uncle Steve.

We began our careers in publishing on the same day in 1986 as junior associates at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin—he as an editor and I as a salesperson for a magazine called Furniture Wood Digest (ultimately Wood Digest). We grew up in the business together, traveled the world together and were often a team at industry events and trade shows.

Steve had an interesting story or an Ole and Lena joke for everyone he met. He was beloved and respected by those who knew him well. Steve had a depth of understanding that was driven by an intense curiosity. We shared a love for historic renovation and the works of Leopold and Muir.

Steve and his wife, Jennifer, renovated the historic John Cook house in Cooksville, Wisconsin, which graced the covers of many magazines. Steve was the editorial director of Wood Digest for 23 years, interviewing and photographing business leaders and creating some of the best feature stories the industry has ever seen.

Steve formed lasting relationships all over the U.S. and the world and enjoyed traveling to the Interzum and Ligna fairs in Germany. We often traveled together, and I know Steve cherished the experiences we shared as much as I did. On our first trip to Koln for the Interzum show, we checked into our hotel, eager to get some rest after a long flight. To our surprise, the room had only one bed. When we complained to the front desk that we had reserved “a double” room and were expecting two beds, we were told that a double in Germany is just a larger bed. Steve and I often reminisced about adventures such as this and “the old days” in the industry.

Steve and I shared an interest in and reverence for World War II history. Nearly 30 years ago, we ventured south of Bonn in a rented car exploring the countryside as we often did on our German trips. We stumbled onto a small village along the Rhine River. When we saw the sign for Remagen, we had to explore on foot. We stood on the abutments of the famous Ludendorff Bridge in silence imagining what it must have been like to be there in March 1945 as the Americans raced against the clock to capture the railroad bridge before the Germans could destroy it.

As night fell, we wandered back into the small village and to the only restaurant. Neither of us spoke German, and we had to point at menus to order dinner. We talked at length about the bridge at Remagen, the war and what it must have been like to see the Allies cross the Rhine. We assumed that no one in the restaurant spoke English. To our surprise, a small gray-haired man wearing a beret approached our table. Steadied by a wooden cane, he said in English that he had been listening to our conversation and was pleased that we knew our history. He told us he was a tank commander in Rommel’s corps in North Africa and had been taken prisoner by the British. He said he learned to speak English in a prison camp in England where he spent the remaining days of the war. We asked him to join us for schnapps, and he told us what it was like to know and be under the command of the desert fox. We could have talked all night.

Steve and I would relive that evening many times. We had many more experiences, and it’s memories such as these that will keep Stephen Patterson Ehle alive in my heart. I will miss my friend. Steve died one day before his 70th birthday.