Remembering Don Siller

Whether it was helping friends, family, and colleagues or advancing the interests of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration, people who knew Don Siller described him as someone who was passionate about life.

Siller was the president of Electro Motion Refrigeration, and a longtime member of IIAR, serving as an officer, board member and committee chair throughout his career in industrial refrigeration, which spanned more than forty years. Siller also held leadership roles at ASHRAE and participated on many ASHRAE committees.

As an IIAR member, he served on the organization’s board during a critical time in the Institute’s history. “Don was instrumental in spearheading IIAR’s growth from a small group of ammonia refrigeration professionals into the large, respected international association that it is today,” said M. Kent Anderson, a close personal friend and former IIAR President Emeritus.

“He was one of those rare individuals a volunteer-based association needs to be a success, and the kind of person you wish there were more of in any organization,” Anderson said. Jamie Horton, principal at EMR, said he was always amazed by Siller’s commitment to IIAR, especially given his busy schedule.

“There were so many instances where Don made IIAR a priority over his personal time,” said Horton. “This type of dedication to a volunteer organization is unique and shows how much Don cared about the success of the group and the industry as a whole.”

Horton said Siller’s teaching abilities were critical in helping him understand the intricacies of ammonia refrigeration throughout a 20-year friendship and during the six years the two men worked together at EMR.

“Don was dedicated to passing on his knowledge of industrial refrigeration to me. He always took the time to make sure I fully understood a technical issue and his experiences with the application,” he said.

That’s a sentiment echoed by current IIAR Chairman Bob Port, who also knew Siller well and considered him a mentor.

“I learned the whole ammonia refrigeration system from Don,” said Port, who recalled his first project involving ammonia refrigeration. “Three days before I had to orchestrate an entire system shut-down; Don walked me through everything detail by detail. It was like ammonia refrigeration 101.”

Port, who had had no prior experience with ammonia refrigeration at the time, was introduced to Siller by his father, who was also a close friend.

After the project was over, said Port, “we sat in his office and had a debriefing.” And from there, Siller was always the person to turn to for technical advice.

“He taught me the technology, and I gained the hands-on experience. That was the relationship we had for my first six years in the business. He was an incredible mentor.”

Horton agreed with Port that Siller’s patience as a mentor was matched only by his resilience when dealing with complicated tasks. “You knew that if he took on a task, it was going to be done with the highest level of professionalism and it was going to be done thoroughly.”

Siller’s attention to detail and his willingness to help people were two of the qualities that characterized him best, said Anderson.

“While Don often had more work than he could possibly complete, he was always able to set it aside so that he could be prepared, engaged and focused on completing the task at hand, whatever it was.”

And that focus and dedication was something Siller always brought to organizations like IIAR, said Anderson.

Siller, who was an honorary life member of IIAR, “was a critical part of establishing the foundation on which the organization still stands today,” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, many friends observed, Siller’s professional and personal friendships often seemed to overlap.

What made him special was how he could turn business relationships into lifelong friendships, said Steve McLeod, president of Toronto-based Cimco Refrigeration. “He was a terrific contributor to our industry with his incredible enthusiasm and energy.”

Doug Reindl, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, knew Siller for nearly two decades and was always impressed by his passion for the ammonia refrigeration industry. “To me and many others, he was a great mentor, teacher and friend whose smile, laugh and always wise counsel will be truly missed.”