Merlin Scharfe spent the first six years of his education in a one-room country schoolhouse in Johnsonville Township.
“I came to school in Redwood Falls for the first time when I was in seventh grade,” said Scharfe.
That is when this self-described hick discovered his passion.
“I was given my first science book,” said Scharfe. “I took it home and read the entire thing that first night.”
Exposure to the sciences opened the door for Scharfe who went on to graduate from Redwood Falls High School in 1960 and from the University of Minnesota in 1964 with a degree in electrical engineering. He graduated one year later with a masters degree in electrical engineering also from the U of M.
Later he earned a second engineering masters degree from the University of Rochester, as well as his MBA from that same school.
Scharfe's successes led to his selection as a member of the 2018 Redwood Area Schools Hall of Fame.
After college, Scharfe found a job working for what was then a little known company named Xerox in New York.
“When I went out to interview with Xerox very few people knew what it was,” said Scharfe, adding most people who had heard of it spelled it with a “Z.”
It was in the 1960s that Xerox introduced a new product to the world – the copying machine. At the heart of a copying machine is a technology known as electrophotography.
Scharfe was on the ground floor of the research and development of the process behind the copying machine, even though at first he was not even offered a job.
“When I arrived for my interview they put a book in front of me,” said Scharfe, adding that book addressed the concepts behind the technology. “I was asked what I knew about it, and I told them I didn’t know anything.”
That was the end of the interview.
“They called me a cab, but until one got there they had to babysit me, and so they showed me around,” said Scharfe.
During that tour Scharfe was exposed to ideas and concepts he had read about, and he started asking the right kind of questions. The next thing he knew he had been offered a job and went to work for Xerox.
“I was a farm kid living in New York,” said Scharfe, who still lives in Penfield, New York today. “I intended to be in New York for a couple of years and then come back home. That became the longest part-time job I ever had.”
Scharfe spent 35 years at Xerox before opting to retire in 2000, and during that time he developed 28 patents which are in his name with an additional 697 patents on which his name is cited.
Scharfe has published many articles during his career and also had a book entitled “Electrophoptography, Principles and Optimization” that has been published.
Scharfe admitted when he was in school his English grades initially were not that great, but a certain teacher named Mrs. Elizabeth Sales took an interest in him.
In writing his book, Scharfe said he paid special attention to his grammar usage thanks to the influence of his high-school English teacher back in Redwood Falls.
Scharfe is married and has three children and seven grandchildren, and as he worked he also made time for family. He was an active parent getting involved as a coach for many of the activities in which his children were participating.
“Some people are born knowing what they wanted to do in life,” said Scharfe. “For others, like me, we are more like a billiard ball bouncing around until we find out what we were meant to do.”
While Scharfe earned a degree in electrical engineering, his work was not limited to that area, and during his career he made contributions in various science-related areas.
In a letter of recommendation for his induction to the hall of fame, Damodar Pay, a colleague and friend, called Scharfe a pioneer in varied areas including engineering, physics, measurement techniques in amorphous solids, coating techniques and dye design all of which helped to develop Xerox as a world leader in its technology.
Scharfe said when he started working for Xerox there were about 8,000 people working there. Within a decade there were 36,000 employees at Xerox.
Scharfe said he is humbled to know he has been selected to the Redwood Area Schools Hall of Fame, attributing his successes to life in a small town that gave him the opportunity to try new things and be involved in various activities that broadened his horizons and taught him to adapt to what was going on around him.
“For me this is a great honor,” said Scharfe. “I can think of many others I would consider more deserving. This just might be the biggest thing that has happened to me in my career.”