Wilbur D. Stites

BLACK EARTH, WIS – Wilbur D. Stites, 87, passed away at Heartland Country Village in Black Earth on Sunday, March 1, 2009 after a long and arduous struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.

Wilbur was born Feb. 13, 1922 to Leslie and Ethel (Kohl) Stites in LaRose, IL. He graduated from Magnolia (IL) High School. He enlisted in the Armed Forces in the summer of 1941 and was inducted into service in the fall of that year.

After extensive training, he was assigned to the crew of William E. Lofton as waist gunner. After embarking from Camp Kilmer, NJ, they eventually were stationed at the 8th Air Force base at Old Buckenham, Norfolk, England. The crew flew combat missions over Germany in B-24 Liberator bombers. On the 17th mission, their plane was severely damaged and they were forced to bail out in Belgium within four miles of enemy territory. After an R&R leave, they returned to duty and completed the required 35 missions before returning to the States in February, 1945.

On April 21, 1945, he married Jeane Sorchych in DePue, IL. After short working stints at the John Deere Plow Co., Moline and New Jersey Zinc Co., DePue, Wilbur returned to his studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, graduating in 195l.

Upon graduation, the Illinois Conservation Dept. recruited him and he established "Outdoors in Illinois" radio and TV shows for them. In 1956 he joined the Wisconsin Conservation Dept. to set up similar programs in Wisconsin. Working in conjunction with Dean Tvedt and Staber Reese, he spent the next 20 years producing "Wisconsin Outdoors" radio and TV shows which were shown extensively throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and even one station in Texas. When those programs were discontinued, Gov. Warren Knowles asked that he be assigned to work with him on the Outdoor Recreation Acts Program and he was proud to do so.

Monona was the Stites' first home in Wisconsin. In 1957 they moved to the McFarland area. Wilbur became very active in the McFarland Lutheran Church, serving on the council and several committees including the building committee. He was especially proud to complete study and qualify to teach the Bethel Bible Series. In 1973 the family moved to rural Black Earth where they have resided to the present.

Wilbur was a co-founder and charter member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and served as president in 1959. He held memberships in Outdoor Writers of American and the American Assn. of Conservation Information from whom he received an Award of Merit in 1956 "for outstanding work for the preparation and transcription of the weekly radio program 'Outdoors in Illinois.'" He holds membership in the Second Air Division Assn., the 453rd Bomb Group Assn., 8th AF Historical Society, and the Air Force Assn. He is a past member of the Madison Press Club and was their "Madison Public Relations Man of 1970."

In 1986 his crew was honored at the Yakima Air Show and seven of the crew met there. While there he learned of the 2nd Air Div. Assn. and promptly joined. He and Jeane traveled twice to England and to numerous venues in the U.S. with that group. In 1990, his bomb group (453rd) decided to meet separately. When Wilbur suggested they have a newsletter, he was promptly "volunteered" to publish it. He and Jeane have continued with that publication, starting the 20th year in 2009.

Wilbur was an excellent marksman and served as a gunner at retriever dog trials for many years. He was an avid upland game hunter as well as a fly fisherman. He delighted in fishing for smallmouth bass in the small streams in his native Illinois. He was a member of the DNR golf league and continued that pastime for many years after his retirement in 1984.

He was proud to claim as personal friends noted outdoorsmen and writers Tim Eisele, Bill Stokes, Homer Circle (Field & Stream), George Laycock (Nat'l Geographic), and John Madson and Charlie Gilham (Winchester Firearms) as well as Roger Freeman of Sussex, England, author of "The Mighty Eighth." He also claimed friendships in England, France, Belgium and most of the 48 contiguous states. He was also acquainted with the late Governor Knowles with whom he hunted several times.

Wilbur's father passed away in 1973; his mother in 1991 at age 98. He was also predeceased by a brother, Leslie K. Stites, a sister and brother-in-law Eileen and Marion "Jack" Hefner. He is survived by his wife, Jeane; a daughter, Linda Bennett, Mt. Horeb, WI; son Will and his wife Bonnie (Beverstock) Stites, granddaughter Kate, of Stevens Point, WI; grandson Ben Stites, Madison; and son-in-law Larry Bennett, Holmen, WI. He is further survived by 16 nieces and nephews.