The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

March 17, 2013

Photographer marks 100th birthday

BY DENNIS BARTLOW
Commercial-News

WILLIAMSPORT, Ind. — Robert Wittig had his finger on the pulse of his hometown of Danville for many years.

For 28 years he was the chief photographer at the Commercial-News, chronicling the city and area in an earlier day.

Wittig will mark his 100th birthday Thursday with family and friends.

Wittig, who is in good health, talked about what led to his career at the newspaper. During World War II, he was working at a factory in Danville for 30 cents an hour.

"It was cold," he said.

One day he stopped to see his friend Frank Jackowski at Middle-West Engravers, where he ended up working for four and a half years. Ironically, Middle-West prepared the engravings needed for the pictures at the Commercial-News for the printing process at that time.

Wittig had a chance to come to the Commercial-News, and he was the only full-time photographer for many years. He never knew where he was going to get a photo of an event so it would show up in the newspaper.

He remembers shooting a crowd shot from the top of a building.

"People would stop me and tell me they found themselves in the picture," Wittig said. "That created a good feeling for the paper."

He used to step outside his northside Danville home and shoot fireworks displays over Lake Vermilion.

In his day pictures were taken with a large box camera nicknamed the "Four-by-Five."

"He was very reliable," said Fowler Connell, retired sports editor at the Commercial-News. "He was a professional. He was on top of things."

Wittig would instruct reporters how to take the proper pictures. He retired in February of 1975.

"College kids (who came to the newspaper) tried to talk me into moving," he said. "I didn’t want to move. Danville was my hometown."

He said the Saturday Evening Post offered him a job to cover the central states, but he wasn’t interested in being on the road.

When he retired, he never took another photo commercially. He took several family pictures, which are evident by his many pictures on the wall of his room at the nursing home.

After retiring, he and his wife, Lenore, spent 10 winters in Palmetto, Fla. She died in 1997.

It was trips to the Grand Tetons that captured him. It was just by accident he went to the Grand Tetons on a trip to Yellowstone, but that started his love affair with those mountains and Jackson Hole, Wyo.

"My wife was there about 45 times," he said. He was there almost as many times.

Traveling was his passion. His son, Bob, said he liked to drive old cars all over the country.

"One time he had 28 flat tires on the way home from Louisville," he said.

Wittig attended Danville High School, but left near the end of his junior year. He was an amateur radio operator and he played golf. He said he never voted.

"You can’t trust politicians," he said.

In addition, to his son, Bob, he has a daughter, Alice Brunet of Casa Grande, Ariz.; six grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren. Many of them will be here to help him celebrate his birthday.

Birthday celebration

Robert Wittig will mark his 100th birthday 2-4 p.m. EDT Thursday at Williamsport Nursing Home and Rehabilitation, 200 Short St., Williamsport, Ind. Turn north on Monroe Street at the four-way stop in Williamsport. Go past the hospital and turn right on Short Street and go to the end of the block. Cake and ice cream will be served. Those unable to attend are invited to send a birthday card in care of his son, Bob, at 21677 E. Illinois Route 119, Alvin, IL 61811. Questions may be directed to his son at (217) 765-2098.