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Eric Aupperle (Merit and UM)

posted May 1, 2015, 1:05 PM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Feb 12, 2017, 3:53 PM ]
Eric M. Aupperle, President Emeritus of the Merit Network, passed away on 30 April 2015 at his home in Ann Arbor.

See the People section of this web site for a short bio sketch for Eric.

Comments from Eric's friends and coworkers at Merit and the University of Michigan

On May 1, 2015, at 2:28 PM, Jeff Ogden wrote:

I have some sad news to pass along.  Janice Short called me a bit ago to say that Eric Aupperle had died. She learned about it from the folks at Merit and they learned it earlier today. I don't have any more details other than he was found in his home and may have died several days ago. Eric's death follows the death of his wife, Nancy, not quite two months ago. Eric had just turned 80.


On May 1, 2015, at 2:45 PM, Mark Knopper wrote:

Hi Jeff,

Al also emailed me about this. So sad - I have great memories of working with Eric, and really liked Nancy too. Eric was a great visionary. I would like to go to the funeral if possible.


On May 1, 2015, at 2:49 PM, Brian Cashman wrote:


Thanks for sending this. Indeed sad news. Eric was so instrumental in his low-key way in bringing about so much in our field. Eric was my instructor in a digital circuits class ECE365, something I'll always remember.


On May 1, 2015, at 3:01 PM, Gavin Eadie wrote:

Sad news indeed - I owed him more than I could ever thank him for.
He brought me to the US, and the 36 years I’ve lived here (as I think
of it, almost to the exact day) changed my life.

On May 1, 2015, at 3:55 PM, Jeff Ogden wrote:

Janice said that she would pass along any information on a funeral or memorial service. Merit may do something, but wants to find out the family's wishes first.  I'll pass on anything that I learn.


On May 1, 2015, at 7:37 PM, David Rodgers wrote:

When I first came to the Computing Center, Aaron and Bernie sent me over
to have a chat with Eric. We had a great conversation that I can still
remember. When one of the committees were formed to plan the wiring
of the campus, I found out Eric asked Bernie/Aaron to put me on the
committee. I learned a tremendous amount from that experience and
met many of the to: actors on this message in that way. I never had much
personal contact with Eric and didn't know him well but he is one of my
"white hats" and a straight shooter. Merit was a great contribution to
the history of computing and the computing profession........


On May 1, 2015, at 10:34 PM, Scott Gerstenberger wrote:

Yes, he certainly was a straight shooter as you said, Dave. I was saying to Liz
today that I don't think I ever knew anyone who was so unflappable -- he had a
very steady hand on the tiller. If he was ever rattled, it was hard to tell. He took
on responsibility in a serious way and worked tirelessly, generally without a lot
fanfare, to pull off some major accomplishments. A great model and mentor for
many of us.


On May 2, 2015, at 9:17 AM, Douglas Van Houweling wrote:

Jeff -- Thanks for the information. Eric was a remarkable human being.  Doug

On May 2, 2015, at 9:59 AM, Gregory Marks wrote:

It certainly is sad to learn of Eric's passing.  Memories of his smile, his laugh, his always warm, friendly, and thoughtful demeanor -- such memories easily come to mind.

One of many impressive things about Eric was how he brought together such talented people, and how good he was at nurturing and empowering them.  I can remember times when various of us, myself or others, would wonder why Eric would not just fix some work issue -- but now looking back with the perspective of time, it is easy to see that he helped us all accomplish more and become better ourselves, both as individuals and in the group's efforts, because of the kind of leader he was.  He was a natural leader. 

At some point, maybe in the late 1990's, I learned he did not trust ATM machines and had never used one.  I can only laugh thinking about all the incongruities of that.

Among my strongest memories of Eric and Nancy together was their enthusiasm for ski trips out west.  One of many great shared pleasures; I have to believe he was missing her a great deal.

Eric was a person who had the right talent, at the right time, in the right place, to make a huge difference.  At least a few of us know that and can honor him for it.


On May 5, 2015, at 9:45 PM, Gary Pirkola wrote:

Curious, the seemingly insignificant things that one remembers, that color one’s lasting impressions of someone.

I didn’t work for Eric, but I interacted with him professionally on a number of occasions.

The thing that I will always remember about Eric is that whenever I returned a call from him, he would start out be saying, “Thanks for returning my call”, as if I were doing something special by returning his call.

This initial greeting had a very positive personal effect on me during the current (and any subsequent) phone conversations. First, because I hadn’t really done anything special (yet), I was predisposed to being receptive and helpful regarding whatever it was he might want to discuss. Second, I had an innate sense that if there was ever a time when I might want to discuss something with him, I felt that he would be very responsive and would do his best to be helpful as well.

Just a simply way to start out a phone conversation, yet extremely effective in communicating the message that he considered me a valued participant in discussing the subject at hand, and certainly guaranteeing that any future conversations between us would be useful and productive as well .

In retrospect, it’s not surprising to me that he was able to accomplish so much, working with so many people, on so many projects at Merit over the years.

His communication style encouraged you to be responsive and helpful, and you full well knew, flipping roles, he would do likewise.

Gary Pirkola

Eric's obituary from M-Live:

Aupperle, Eric 4/14/1935 - 4/30/2015 Ann Arbor Age 80, passed away April 30, 2015. Eric was born April 14, 1935 in Batavia, New York to Max Karl Aupperle and Hedwig Elise Helen Haas. He moved to Ann Arbor in 1937 and graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1953. He earned a BSE degree in both Electrical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1957 and an MSE in Nuclear Engineering from U of M in 1958. He married his late wife, Nancy of 56 years, on June 21, 1958 in Dearborn, Michigan. Eric worked at the University of Michigan his entire career beginning as a research scientist in 1957 at the Cooley Electronics Laboratory. He spent most of his time at Michigan at Merit Computer Network where he retired in 2001 as President of Merit. He was also a lecturer for the University's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science for 40 years. In his off time, Eric enjoyed traveling, spending time with his family and relaxing at the family cottage. Eric is survived by his children Bryan (Carol) Aupperle of Carey, NC, his daughter Lisa (Alexander) Hudy of Livonia, MI and his grandchildren Matthew, Daniel and Nicole. He is also survived by his sisters Charlotte (Douglas) McGregor of Cleveland, OH and Gertrude (Irving) Salmeen of Ann Arbor. There will be a private interment. A Memorial Celebration of both Eric and Nancy's lives will be held on Saturday, May 9, 2015 from 2-4 pm at Nie Family Funeral Home, 2400 Carpenter Rd, Ann Arbor. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made in memory of Eric Aupperle to the University of Michigan Electrical and Computer Engineering Fund (fund number 313472, U of M EECS Dept, 1301 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2122), which supports student research, guest instructors and state-of-the-art equipment purchases.


A memorial to Eric from U-M's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department:

Eric Max Aupperle (BSE EE and Math '57; MSE NERS '58; Instm.E. '64), renowned president of Merit Network and Research Scientist Emeritus, passed away Thursday, April 30, 2015, at the age of 80.

It is not often that an individual’s memorial tribute reflects a life lived in the heart of a major technological revolution. As director and president of a computer research network that played a contributing role in the development of the Internet, Eric Aupperle lived such a life.

Mr. Aupperle was a true Michigan man, devoting his career to the University of Michigan and to the State of Michigan in his role as director and later president of Merit Network. Throughout his career at Merit, Eric was an employee of the University of Michigan, serving for a time as Associate Director for Communications (1981-1989) and Interim Director of Information Technology Division Network Systems (1990-1992).

After receiving his bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics in 1957, Mr. Aupperle was hired as a researcher of electronic devices at the U-M Cooley Electronics Laboratory. He was a lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1963-2002, teaching digital circuits and other circuits and computer-related courses. By the mid 1960's, Eric was programming assembly language into the earliest version of mini-computers in the university’s Computer Electronics Lab.[1]

In the fall of 1969, Eric was hired as the first employee of Merit Network by the director, Prof. Bertram Herzog. His job was to implement a computer network that linked the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University. Recalling the early years in a later interview, Eric said they had to build the technology, called communications computers (essentially routers by today’s terminology). Only ARPA was doing something similar at that time. [2]

"It was clear that we needed someone who had electrical engineering, circuit design capabilities," Herzog says today of his choice of Aupperle. "There was a lot of innovative stuff to be done." [3]

In 1973, the network was formally dedicafted, and for the first time a researcher at Michigan, for example, was able to run a program at Michigan State or Wayne State. A year later Eric was appointed director of Merit, and he would serve as Merit’s first president from 1988 to 2001.

Aupperle and BraunIn 1976, Merit interconnected with Telenet, a spin-off of ARPANET, which ultimately connected Merit users with the world. In 1983, Hans-Werner Braun was brought in from Germany to interconnect Merit's network with ARPANET itself. Once completed - Merit became the first network to support both a connection-based protocol and the connectionless TCP/IP suite. [4]

The next major milestone in Eric’s career occurred after the National Science Foundation (NSF) established NSFNET in 1985 with the goal of networking five new recently-funded supercomputing centers. Within just a year, network traffic far exceeded capacity, and NSF put out a bid to upgrade NSFNET to meet the demand.

Merit Network, which by this time had grown to include eight universities, was selected as lead organization of this upgraded NSFNET, a consortium that included IBM, MCI, and the State of Michigan. Eric would later write, “Almost overnight Merit’s role of providing networking services to our member universities and a handful of other Michigan-based organizations was extended to include an extremely significant, highly visible national networking function.” [5]

As President of Merit, Eric was called on many times to talk about NSFNET and the rise of networked computing.  In a 1985 article printed in IEEE Spectrum, he said, “The communications and computer industries evolved independently, but they have blended inexorably, both technically and, more recently, organizationally.”

By 1991, discussions of who owned the Internet, which itself was an object of some confusion, was a hot topic of conversation. In the article, Just Who Owns the Internet?,  Eric was quoted as saying, “When one talks of the Internet, you have to envision a large number of networks, some of which are major backbones like the NSF Net. Others are statewide or regional networks, others are networks within colleges or research educations or labs. What counts as ownership? ... The desired outcome is access as open as it is today, in terms of the educational and research community, and also for commercial users.” [6]

Dan Atkins III, Professor of Information and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, former Dean of the College of Engineering and the School of Information, and inaugural Director of the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at NSF, confirmed the importance of Eric's leadership and Merit's role in shaping the Internet:

"Eric Aupperle was a pioneer contributor to the rapid emergence of the Internet as we now know it. Pre-internet he headed the development of MERIT, one of the very first regional computer networks. MERIT created the capacity for the University of Michigan to win the operational leadership of the NSFNet, the project that led to rapid adoption of the TCP/IP standards of the original ARPA Net to all of higher education. This rapid growth launched TCP/IP as the open defacto standard for all of the Internet and thus dampened the attempts by commercial parties to establish proprietary networks. The internet may well be very different today were it not for the talented leadership of Eric Aupperle and colleagues at the University of Michigan."

In the early 1990’s, Merit successfully worked to provide network access to K-12 schools throughout Michigan. Merit also helped develop the University of Michigan’s GoMLink, the first virtual library on the Internet. In 1994, Merit became involved with the North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG), the professional association for Internet engineering and architecture. Merit coordinated and managed the activities of NANOG until 2010.

NSFNET funding ended in 1995. Eric said the $50M spent by the government resulted in “a great return on investment.”

Doug Van Houweling, Professor of Information, took over as president of Merit when Eric stepped down. Prof. Van Houweling served a Chairman of the Board at Merit during NSFnet, was Chief Executive Officer of Internet2 between 1997-2010, and is a member of the Internet Hall of Fame. He stated:

"Eric Aupperle led Michigan's higher education network, Merit, through three decades of innovation. He had a unique talent for attracting gifted colleagues and welding their sometimes disparate visions into action that kept Merit at the forefront of network technology and applications. His crowning achievement was leadership of the NSFNET project which demonstrated that Internet technology could serve millions of users and led to today's Internet. Eric's leadership changed the world."

Eric remained committed to Merit’s purpose as being “Michigan’s premiere network service provider for our educational and research communities.”  Merit is still an active non-profit organization, providing high-performance networking and services to the research and education communities in Michigan as well as across the U.S.

In recognition of his leadership at Merit and resulting contributions to the history of networked computing, especially for the research and educational community, Mr. Aupperle was awarded the highest alumni honor by the College of Engineering, the Alumni Medal, in 2003. He received the IEEE Third Millenium Medal in 2000. Eric also served as a board member of the EECS Alumni Society from 2004-07.

"The department is honored to have counted Mr. Eric Aupperle as a friend and colleague," said Khalil Najafi, Schlumberger Professor of Engineering and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "We salute his extraordinary accomplishments as leader of Merit Network, and offer our sincere condolences to his entire family."

[1] History of the Merit Network, by Kate Kellogg. Interview with Eric Aupperle. Ann Arbor Business Magazine. February, 2006.

[2] 40 years and going strong: Internet pioneer Merit celebrates and looks ahead. Former leader of Michigan research network reflects on organization’s accomplishments. Interview with Eric Aupperle. Networkworld, Nov 10, 2006.

[3] A Chronicle of Merit's Early History, written in 1989 by John Mulcahy, a Merit staff member who had been hired on a temporary basis to complete a variety of technical writing projects.

[4] History of Merit, see 1980-1989, by Merit Network, Inc.

[5] Merit – Who, What, and Why, by Eric. M. Aupperle, President, Merit Network, Inc. This four-part article covers the years 1964-1998.

[6] Just Who Owns the Internet, by Sharon Fisher, InfoWorld, February 4, 1991.

May 7, 2015