A friend forever
By Ethan Smith
Published in News on August 11, 2013 1:50 AM
Photo submitted by Pam Lawrence
From left, Peggy Wittke, Peggy Griswold, Baerbel Wittke and Karl-Heinz Wittke at the Berlin airport wearing Goldsboro High School Class of '52 T-shirts.
Photo submitted by Pam Lawrence
Karl-Heinz Wittke, right, with Mayor Al King, as he receives the key to the city of Goldsboro in 2002.
"Despite of all optimism in the exchange program this fellow did not know what the public opinion in the USA against his country might be," Wittke wrote. "He didn't know whether he would meet friends or opposition, and this was a reason he felt a little strange. This fellow -- identical to the writer of these lines -- soon learned that there was not any hatred against his country. To my (his) greatest surprise a man whose two sons were killed in Germany did not hold any feelings against me but invited me to dinner."
The hospitality extended to Wittke by members of the Goldsboro community lived on through the friends he made while staying in Goldsboro and continued into the 1980s.
Wittke came to his first class reunion, Goldsboro High School's Class of 1952's 30th, in 1982. The year before, in 1981, his daughter, Peggy, came to stay with Bob Bryan's family. Ms. Wittke said it was exciting to be able to study in the U.S. like her father had done, and that everyone was very friendly and open to her. During her stay, she was also able to meet most of her father's classmates from the Class of 1952.
"One of the biggest differences between 1951 and 1981 was that by the time I came foreigners were better accepted and not so unusual," Ms. Wittke said. "When my father came, it was still a very new thing."
In return for hosting Wittke's daughter, the Wittke family also hosted Bob Bryan's daughter for a year in Berlin.
"Karl was a very prolific email writer," Bryan said. "After graduation, we became very close over the years. Our family and kids were very close due to the relationship we had."
Bryan recalled Wittke as being a very good diver and tennis player. According to a letter from Bryan, Wittke worked for the Berliner Bank for 35 years before he retired with his wife, Baerbel.
In an email from Wittke to Bryan, provided by Bryan, dated Oct. 12, 2012, Wittke expressed his concern about his and his wife's aging.
"Baerbel and I are fighting the preliminary signs of old age," Wittke wrote in the email. "Baerbel returned from the doctor today with a new recipe against high blood pressure and the bad news that obviously she had a small infarct (dead tissue caused by a lack of local oxygen due to an obstruction of the tissue's blood supply) which she simply pushed aside."
Wittke continued to discuss travel plans for the next year in his email, and also provided various updates about his daughters to the Bryan family, highlighting how close the two families remained over the years.
Wittke's daughter, Peggy, is named after Peggy Griswold, one of Wittke's classmates from the Class of 1952. When she visited the U.S., Peggy was able to meet her namesake.
"When I met her, I was very proud to be named after her," Ms. Wittke said.
Ms. Wittke's sister, Steffi, also stayed with the Bryan family in 1984, and yet another member of the Wittke family came to Goldsboro.
After Wittke attended the 30th class reunion, he hosted the 40th class reunion in Berlin in 1992. The approximately 40 members of the class who attended the reunion in Berlin traveled to Dresden and Prague with Wittke as well.
"Overall, it was a marvelous experience," Gibson said. "He was our first foreign exchange student and a marvelous person."
Wittke instilled in his children a worldly appreciation for customs outside of the German culture.
"He always made sure we were appreciative of other cultures," Ms. Wittke said. "We always traveled. My father was a calm, reflective person and my mother was the opposite. Of course I miss him very much."
Currently, Pamela Lawrence and other members of the Class of 1951 have started an effort to create a scholarship fund in Wittke's honor. The fund will help a Wayne County student become involved with an AFS program, much like the one that allowed Wittke to come to the U.S.
Details on where to donate money to the scholarship fund are still forthcoming.