Obituary : Ralph J. "Sardar" Thanhauser
As a boy growing up in the mountains near Philadelphia, Ralph Joseph "Sardar" Thanhauser was interested in the rivulets of water caused by rain. He built little dams and watched what happened. It was the beginning of a fascination with water he enjoyed his whole life, which ended on November 23, at age 66.
Sardar graduated from Cornell University in 1965, then spent a year in Venezuela and Trinidad as a Fulbright Scholar. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969.
In that same year he learned his favorite movie director, Jean Luc Goddard, would be coming to the United States for a speaking tour.
Sardar followed him around the country with a movie camera and produced a documentary of the speaking tour, using some of Goddard's own techniques, such as the wide panning camera. Today Sardar's documentary is often screened at Goddard film festivals and has become a must-see for students of the famous French film director.
In the early 1970s, Sardar moved to Chelsea, Vt., and worked at the Legislative Services office in Montpelier. After meeting the Sufi Teacher Pir Vilayat, Sardar helped to found the Abode of the Message, the Sufi community at New Lebanon, N.Y. Here he picked up his first name and met April, his wife of 32 years.
Sardar was drawn to a historic mill site on Hall's Brook in Newbury, Vt., and he and April bought the place and moved there in 1981. He refurbished the old stone dam, built a new mill building, and a 16-foot overshot steel waterwheel and installed it inside and began generating electricity.
While living in Newbury, the couple had two daughters, Chaya and Sofi, who live on Martha's Vineyard and in Brooklyn, and a son, Micah, who is a student at Brown University.
By the early 1990s Sardar was becoming more and more interested in what happened to the water after it flowed over his dam. He organized several deep sea fishing trips for his friends and began wanting his own fishing boat on the ocean. He and April began searching for a new home near the ocean and an island would be perfect. They moved to Martha's Vineyard in 1995.
Sardar renovated a wooden fishing dory he had built in the 1970s and berthed it at Menemsha harbor for several years. Then he replaced it with a 24-foot aluminum skiff and plied the waters off the Vineyard for bluefish and striped bass. During summers he joined a fisherman friend for mackerel fishing off Cape Breton Island
Among Sardar's other interests were oak trees, Clint Eastwood movies, playing the stock market, and reggae music. He is survived by two brothers, Roger and David Thanhauser, his wife April, son Micah and daughters Sofi and Chaya.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, Dec. 21 at 3 pm at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. In lieu of flowers, plant a tree.