DAVENPORT, Iowa — The Quad-City Times announced the passing of one of its legends Tuesday afternoon. Beloved columnist Bill Wundram passed away at the age of 98.
Quad Citizens and Wundram's colleagues remember the man fondly. To them, he was "as big a force as the Mississippi River itself."
"We have lost a legend, a gigantic talent, an irreplaceable treasure, a dear friend to multitudes over generations," said Dan Hayes, former executive editor of the Quad-City Times. "We have been lucky to breathe the same air as this great man."
"What he wrote about was common people, regular people," Hayes said. "He wrote about big things, too. But he could see stories where nobody else could see them. And he wrote about heart rending stories, inspirational stories, and he also had a way of making things happen in the community."
Hayes said he was a colleague of Wundram's for 54 years and that he was ingrained into his life.
For more than seven decades, Wundram was the "voice of Davenport." A native of that city, he was born here on Dec. 21, 1924. The Times says one of his favorite jokes was that he was so short because he was born on the shortest day of the year.
Growing up in the Quad Cities gave him just the edge he needed to write his daily columns and books. Recurring themes included the importance of family life from kitchen tables to front porches to back alleys. He was president of the Class of 1943 at Davenport High School. He was inducted into the Hall of Honor at what is now Central High School in 2001. His brief stint with the U.S. Army was longer than his time at Augustana College in Rock Island.
"But an irresistible romance with the printed word derailed his academic career," the Times reports.
At just 19, he became a reporter for the Davenport Democrat and Leader, which would soon become the Quad-City Times. His passion for print centered on what is known as "soft news," and his curiosity helped him thrive in the format.
And just 35 years after he started, the legend finally found his voice as a daily columnist, which was unheard of in the world of journalism in 1979.
"Bill was just one of a kind, and I think it was because he was so authentic," Debbie Anselm, president and publisher of Quad-City Times said. "And he knew his purpose, right. And he taught us how important it is to be authentic, be connected, and stay true to oneself."
Of course, his daily prose adapted to the world around him. In recent years, the self-proclaimed "grandpa" of the news staff would have five columns a week, all appearing on Page A2 of the Times.
The Times highlights his love story with Helen Voorhees, his wife of 70 years. Their meet-cute? He shattered his left leg and wrenched his right kneecap after sliding down a recently-waxed fireman's pole. But it led him to the red-haired nurse who would eventually take his name on Nov. 30, 1952.
The couple had three children, Tim, Rebecca and Peter. Peter died in 1998 at the age of 36.
Many tributes to Wundram's career have been made, including the unofficial designation of a block of LeClaire Street west of the Times as "Wundram Way" in 2004. In 2010, a pocket park at East 4th and Iowa streets was also crowned in his name.
A bronze statue of the legend stands outside his former place of passion, Bix Plaza. This honor recognizes his involvement in the development of the Quad-City Times Bix 7 road race.
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