Nature 14

Edward James Erwin

April 3, 1958 ~ August 28, 2019 (age 61)


Edward James Erwin, age 61, passed on Thursday, August 28, 2019.  Ed died of a sudden heart attack in his home. He was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on April 3, 1958.  His family moved frequently because of his father’s work, so he spent his elementary school years in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin and graduated from high school at Plymouth Canton High School while living in Plymouth, Michigan.  He earned BSW (2006) and MSW (2007) degrees from UW-Madison and worked in mental health advocacy and social work for over 30 years.

Ed was studying in the School of Natural Resources at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1985.  He immediately set about examining the larger issues, serving on the Mental Health Advisory Board in Ann Arbor.

He came to Madison WI in 1986 and affiliated with Yahara House, a Clubhouse model vocational rehabilitation program affiliated with Journey Mental Health Center.  With hard work, self-discipline, and tenacity, supported by the committed staff at Yahara House and Journey Mental Health, Ed continued his work to improve housing stability, educational access, and vocational access for those with mental illness.  He was a founding Board Member of Housing Initiatives Inc. (1993-2005, committed to reducing homelessness among those with mental illness), Enterprise People Inc. (1997-2006, assisting those with mental illness to achieve independence by starting and sustaining their own small businesses), and GLASER, Great Lakes Area Supported Education Research Project (2000-2005, a consortium of 5 midwestern states focused on overcoming barriers when people with mental illness resume their educations).  He served on many more boards and committees, working to improve quality of life for those with mental illnesses through everything from transportation access to getting out the vote.

With the help of Yahara House and the Friends of Yahara House, Ed returned to school. It took nearly two decades of hard work, adjustment, and many starts and stops, but he completed his BSW & MSW and had recently completed Peer Counseling Certification.  During this time, he remained active in the movement to promote recovery and reduce stigma associated with mental illnesses.  He curated art projects and used his decades of journals to self-publish a project on recovery.  He consulted in other cities and countries looking to develop clubhouse model programs. 

Ed was the grandchild of Irish immigrants and inherited their creative tendencies. Letters from him were verbal funhouses, with tiny illustrations inserted all along the hallways. He was preceded in death by his parents, James Erwin (born and raised Detroit MI) and Mary O’Brien Erwin (born and raised Chicago IL), his brother-in-law Charlie Keeling, his grandparents, and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. He is survived by his siblings Maureen Keeling (Fredericksburg VA), Irene Erwin (Madison), Kevin Erwin (Lake Delton) and Jim Erwin (Long Beach CA), his nephews Michael Keeling (Marie King, great nephews Owen and Finn) of Pittsburgh PA, and Ryan Keeling (Nickie Cutsail, great niece Emily) Martinsburg WV, and many cousins spanning three generations around the country.  He inherited the family knack for storytelling. His wit and intellect will be sorely missed.

A celebration of Ed’s life will be held at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 Knox Ave Chicago IL on Friday, November 29, 2019, 12 noon to 5p.m. 

A local memorial is planned for Saturday, October 26, 2019 at TRIPP COMMONS, UW MADISON MEMORIAL UNION, 800 Langdon St., Madison, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Friends of Yahara House, 802 E. Gorham Street, Madison WI 53703 would be greatly appreciated. Donations to the Friends group are 100% applied to improving the lives of individuals with mental illnesses by providing tuition and book support, emergency loans and grants for any and everything from groceries to interview clothing to emergency travel or medical expenses. Learn more about Yahara House and donate online here:  To view and sign this guestbook, please visit:

To send flowers to Edward's family, please visit our floral store.


Memorial Gathering
October 26, 2019

1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Tripp Commons, UW Madison Memorial Union
800 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706

Memorial Gathering
November 29, 2019

12:00 PM to 5:00 PM
American Heritage Center
4626 Knox Avenue
Chicago, IL 60630

© 2020 Ryan Funeral Homes. All Rights Reserved. Funeral Home website by CFS & TA