October 11, 2003
summer came to
My parents became full-time residents at the lake in 1992, when my dad had the cottage they bought jacked up in the air so that he could add a full basement under it and put on an addition that more than doubled the size of the house. This was their retirement home, and was as perfect for them as one could ask.
My parents retired
from teaching in 1985. Mom taught
elementary school and dad taught high school industrial education – never “shop”. They used to say that mom started them up and
dad finished them off. They bought the
cottage on the lake and then 80 acres of woods down at the other end of the
lake and eventually found that they were making a trip back to Essexville once
a week to mow the lawn. They sold the
house my father had built in 1969 and made
My dad was
one of those guys who retires but doesn’t stop working. He always had a million projects going. His workshop, desk and barn were a mess; he
was just too busy to spend time cleaning.
Also contributing to the chaos was the fact that he never got rid of
anything. He grew up in a dirt poor
family as the oldest of ten and knew the value of a penny. He kept detailed records of where his money
went. He kept a book in his glovebox that recorded every expense for the car. I have the ones that include the 1960 Corvair he bought new on
Retirement suited my parents well. The 80 acres became “Witte’s Woods” and were dad’s playground. He made roads in the woods, naming one after each child, grandchild and spouse. He had tractors and sawmills, a backhoe and snowmobiles. He built a “sugar shack” in the woods for making maple syrup and each spring the sweet smell of boiling sap rolled out of the quaint little building.
In addition to all of his activities in the woods, he made woodworking projects to sell at bazaars or give to grandchildren. His basement housed a woodshop that would make some high schools jealous, and it saw frequent use. Last fall, he reroofed his house and garage by himself. I asked if at the age of 69 it wouldn’t be appropriate to have the shingles delivered to the roof, but he said that they would just get in the way up there. This spring one of his neighbors had dozens of trees cut down on their lot, so he had the wood piled on his lot across the street and started splitting it by hand.
Genealogy was another big interest my dad had. Mom tolerated this with infinite patience, as she did all of my father’s pursuits. She was content to be along, even if she did not care so much about which Bechtel was related to which Dowker. She tagged along with him when he went to photograph gravestones at various cemeteries for a genealogy website.
Between all of this, my father was the guy everyone would call if they needed help. Much of the woodworking in my parent’s church was the product of his efforts. Anytime anyone was in the middle of a home improvement project and got stuck, he got them unstuck. He mowed the neighbors’ yards, chopped wood and gave it to widows in the church, wired his son’s barn, tiled his daughter’s house, and along the way made all sorts of loans and gifts to help out those around him.
the 7th, was my daughter Allison’s eleventh birthday.
Dad started the day by sending Allie an electronic birthday card and
then called his brother Stu, whom he talked to just
about every day at 6:45 a.m. (before the rates went up). Then he made
a contact sheet in Word of the digital photos he had taken before at
That done he headed down the woods. He had been shoveling the muck away from the dock at the cove so that he would be able to get a boat in when the water came back up. It was a beautiful fall day. The leaves were just starting to turn and mist was rising from the lake. The morning started cool but then warmed rapidly on its way to a comfortable high in the mid-seventies.
There in his
woods he loved so much on that beautiful day my father had a heart attack and
died. He would have been 70 this coming Friday,
but instead, he was laid to rest in the cemetery in
This last week has been the hardest of my life. The reason that I am writing this is to celebrate the life of the greatest man I have ever known. What I have written here is such a small portion of what my father was, and the loss is more than I can express.
My dad carried this poem in his wallet:
A Little Fellow Follows Me
A careful man I want to be
A little fellow follows me;
I do not dare to go astray,
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.
I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate’er he sees me do, he tries;
Like me, he says he's going to be
The little chap who follows me.
He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in ever y word of mine;
y word of mine;
The base in me he must not see,
The little chap who follows me.
I must remember as I go,
Through summer’s sun and winter’s snow
I’m building for the years to be,
That little chap who follows me.
I can only say that the little fellow who followed him loved him dearly and will miss him more than words can say.
Carl William Witte
October 17, 1933 - October 7, 2003
Copyright Norman C. Witte 2003