Family donates self portrait of UW-L’s physical education pioneer
Four generations of the Wittich family returned to campus in May bearing a memento of Walter Wittich, a prominent pioneer of UW-La Crosse’s physical education program.
The family donated a painted, self-portrait of Wittich that had sat in granddaughter Carol Bowman’s closet in Lodi, Wis. for years. The painting will definitely find a more prominent place on campus, said Bowman after presenting the painting to UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow.
The painting will temporarily be hung in the Cleary Alumni & Friends Center until the planned Wittich Hall renovation is complete and an appropriate place to hang it is selected. Because of his profound influence on the university, the Board of Regents passed a resolution naming UW-L’s original physical education building Wittich Hall after Wittich died in 1953.
“I want to thank the family for their generosity and for honoring someone who truly had a great impact on this university, as evidenced by the fact that his name is engraved on this building,” Gow told family members at the portrait presentation.
The family donated the painting with “gleaming pride in him, his talents and his contributions to his fellowman.”
Wittich joined La Crosse Normal School in 1917 as an assistant professor of physical education. A little over a year later he became head of the department of health, physical education and recreation. Under his leadership, the school underwent improvements and additions to curriculum and facilities.
He became a physical education leader —even outside the boundaries of campus. He was well known for a bulletin he published and edited, “The Health and Physical Education News,” for physical educators and school administrators throughout the country. It promoted physical education and its place in curriculum and activities. He also designed and patented a first aid wheel for use in Red Cross classes, which was distributed nationally. In the state, he served as a prominent voice in physical education as president of the Wisconsin Society for Physical Education. He also developed sports and recreation programs in La Crosse.
“We’ve heard a lot about him — the history of what he did here,” says Heather Pruitt, Wittich’s great granddaughter from Rockford, Ill. The family remembers how physically conscientious he was, as well as his artistic side.
“Our entire family has numerous paintings of his in our homes,” notes Bowman.
Christine Raymer, also a granddaughter, now paints and has been on a search for her grandfather’s easel, which she thinks is still potentially in the hands of someone connected to the university. Wittich had two sons. The late George Wittich is Raymer and Bowman’s father. Their uncle, also named Walter, is still living and will be 103.
Building named after Wittich
In recognition of 36 years of service as director of the division of health, physical education and recreation at Wisconsin State College, La Crosse, the Board of Regents of State Colleges passed a resolution naming the physical education building Wittich Hall in his honor. Many of the buildings on campus are named after former UW-L faculty — some who later became administrators, UW-L Professor Emeritus and former administrator Carl Wimberly explains in the video “These Halls of Learning.” These faculty had a common interest in the well-being of students, he says. Wimberly also has a hall named after him — Carl Wimberly Hall.
Check out “These Halls of Learning” — a video about UW-L buildings and the people behind the names
“The buildings on this campus are beautiful, but it’s what happens between the walls of those buildings that makes UW-L unique. When students come into those buildings and meet new people and discover new ideas, they are creating memories that will last them a lifetime.”
– Maurita Robarge.