John Minott Wuerth, formerly of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, died peacefully at the age of precisely 95 and a half on Tuesday evening, Sept. 29, 2015.He was born in Montclair, N.J., on March 29, 1920, to Gustav and Elsie Wuerth.
Jack graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in physics from Princeton University in 1942. During the Second World War, he served as a Lieutenant A(L) in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and as project officer in the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. He used his physics knowledge to improve the accuracy of hitting moving targets from airplanes. After the war, Jack moved west to California, where he became one of the first nationally recognized experts on space navigation, exciting the nation in 1951 by describing how to get to Venus. He was also an internationally recognized authority on systems and components for guided-missile navigation, and developed and managed systems of inertial navigation for aircrafts, submarines, and guided missiles. Jack was issued seven navigation-related patents during his 35-plus years as an engineer at Autonetics (which later became Rockwell International).He also served as president of the North American Institute of Navigation. Yes, he was truly a rocket scientist!
Jack was married to Joan Alling on June 11, 1948, after a very short, whirlwind courtship, and they enjoyed 65 wonderful years of marriage. They raised four daughters together in Southern California. They retired to Oak Bluffs in 1986, and later moved to Edgartown, and spent many active years on the Island as members of the Edgartown Federated Church, the Edgartown Yacht Club, gardening, traveling, and hosting many friends and family. In 2008 they returned to California to be closer to their youngest daughter, Wendy Scheck.
Jack had honed a love of sailing and the Vineyard through summers spent in an Edgartown cottage built by his grandparents in 1924 on Katama Bay. The many racing pendants he and his siblings won still hang in one of the bedrooms there. He continued sailing his entire life, and he enjoyed teaching the art to his daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. One of Jack’s favorite stories was of the sailing race in which he and his brother sailed across the finish line with the boat completely submerged! He also told the story of a harrowing experience he had in the Round-the-Island Race. They were going around the tip of Nomans Land with thick fog. Suddenly the fog got much thicker, and then he realized that the thick fog was a triple-masted square-rigged clipper ship, right in front of them! They managed to barely miss hitting it.
Jack was well known for his keen mind and great sense of humor. In his youth he was an accomplished practical jokester. Once he arranged for cherry bombs to go off behind his school while chatting with local police officers. As he matured, he learned to use his considerable analytical and strategic skills as an active problem solver, and began a lifelong pattern of volunteering, through various positions on educational boards, church leadership, conservation groups, and civic organizations. He served on numerous committees for the town of Oak Bluffs, and also served in various positions as a lay leader at the Federated Church, including as moderator and Church Council chairman.
Jack showed his commitment to conservation of open spaces as he helped organize the committee to preserve the Southern Woodlands area. He and Joan hosted numerous meetings in their home, and participated in many Oak Bluffs town meetings and Martha’s Vineyard Commission meetings in this effort.
In the process of applying for a pier in front of his Oak Bluffs home, he represented himself as applicant and qualified as an expert witness at the longest adjudicatory hearing in the history of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Music was another of Jack’s passions (he was an excellent tenor), which he pursued actively while young and again found real comfort and enjoyment in during the last years of his life. He was the founding president of the South Bay Civic Light Opera Co. in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Jack is survived by his four daughters: Vicky Sigworth and her husband Fred of Hamden, Conn., Shelley Rice and her husband Craig of San José, Costa Rica, Kelsey Ambrose and her husband Tom of Rumney, N.H., and Wendy Scheck and her husband Andy of Moraga, Calif. In addition, he is survived by his sisters, Katharine Lynn and her husband Robert, and Elizabeth Jones, all of Scarborough, Maine; 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.He was predeceased by his parents, his loving wife Joan (Alling) Wuerth, and his brother, Tom Wuerth.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 am on Nov. 21 at the Edgartown Federated Church. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Memorial Garden Fund at the Edgartown Federated Church, 45 South Summer Street, P.O. Box 249, Edgartown, MA 02539; 508-627-4421.