Dr. John Jr. Wittrig
April 9, 1930 ~ January 9, 2021 (age 90)
John Wittrig lived a life worthy of honor. He lived simply, worked hard, loved well, enjoyed the arts, and dedicated his life to helping others and to healing the planet. He was Doctor John. He was Dad. He was the Chestnut Man. He was Papaw. He was so much to so many. And, as written by his grandson, Joseph McPhail:
“You may think you never met him, but the truth is you have.
He is all around you, in the trees...and the leaves.
Popow, you see, gave the best of his life
to saving our planet so you could someday,
walk in the woods and hear the birds say
Thank you for keeping our planet this way.”
John was born on April 9, 1930, in a tiny little town outside of Wayland, Iowa, to Emerson and Ruth Wittrig. He grew up on a farm, where he attended a one room school and graduated from high school in Wyman. Because of his conscientious objector status as a Mennonite, John was exempt from the draft and able to study agriculture at Iowa State University for a couple of years. However, he let his conscientious objector status drop and enlisted in the Army Medical Corps during the Korean War. After he got through basic training, half of his class was selected to go to Korea. He just by luck of the draw was in the other half. He then went to San Antonio and trained as a psychology technician.
It was while he was in the Army that John met Betty Saddler and was immediately smitten by this southern belle. They were married at Hinshaw Memorial Methodist Church, Greensboro, NC, on June 27, 1953.
With his new wife by his side, John went back to Iowa State University with the help of the GI Bill, earning his degree in rural sociology and then got accepted to the doctoral program at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, where he earned his doctorate in clinical psychology.
At the VA hospital Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and then in Danville, Illinois, Dr. John Wittrig did research and treated veterans for stress and PTSD. He was also very active with unionizing government employees. His son, Bruce, recalls, “He always wanted to stick up for the little guy and make sure that the little guy had protection.”
Additionally, Betty and John co-taught a Sunday school class for young married couples at St. James United Methodist Church in Danville, IL. For over 10 years, they built into the lives of hundreds of young adults, providing a great foundation of faith that helped them to raise their own families.
After retiring 1988, John’s work was only just beginning. He and Betty moved back to Iowa to dedicate the rest of their lives to becoming trailblazers in organic farming, soil conservation, and sustainable agriculture. Before just about anyone had ever heard of global warming, he and Betty started planting trees to sequester carbon and do far more than his part to help stem the tide of climate change. Dr. John Wittrig was an outspoken advocate for protecting our soil, teaming with other farmers and environmental activists across Iowa to build wetlands and practice sustainable agriculture, like planting a chestnut tree orchard in Winfield and bringing chestnuts back to the American dinner table. J+B’s Chestnut Farm is well known by the townsfolk of Winfield.
John and Betty had five children: identical twin daughters, Sandra and Sally, who only lived until shortly after birth; Thomas Stephen (residing in Winfield); Bruce Evan (married to Mary Alice Rich, living in Dallas, TX); and Laura Joann of Winfield. John would often say that although “we don’t make music, we make musicians.” And not only their children, but many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are participants in the fine arts.
John is survived also by six grandchildren: Robyn, Aaron, Joe, Rachel, Tom, and Melanie. John also has five great-grandchildren: Sumay, Aila, Elijah, Isaac, and Lily.
He is preceded on this final journey by his parents, wife, and twin daughters.
“So next time you see a tree in the park
or hear the leaves rustling, while camping in the dark.
Just remember that those trees might be just like you
The descendents of a hero, that deserve his due
For doing that which so many find hard
Looking past petty wants to find meaning in giving
Service to others ... making your life worth living.”
Graveside services will be held on Saturday, January 16, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. at Fern Cliff Evangelic Cemetery, 2739 Fern Cliff Road, Wayland, IA 52654 . The Snyder and Hollenbaugh Funeral and Cremation Services of Winfield is caring for the family. A memorial has been established in John’s name, and donations can also be made to the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust at https://silt.org/ . Sympathy notes may be left for the family at www.sandhfuneralservice.com. All who attend the service are asked to wear a mask and social distance for everyone's safety. A Celebration of Life is tentatively planned for this June.