Saying Farewell To A Local Legend: William “Bill” Wundram

How do you say goodbye to a local legend? William “Bill” Wundram passed away on February 14, 2023, at the age of 98 years. To describe Bill is not a simple task. Think a little of P.T. Barnum’s flair, a little of Tom Sawyer’s adventurous spirit, and a little of Walt Disney’s creativity all wrapped into the enormous heart and smile of one talented writer and reporter. The grandest part is Bill shared all those talents with us for the 74 years he worked at the Quad-City Times (originally the Davenport Democrat and Leader).

William Lewis Wundram, Jr. was born in Davenport, Iowa on December 21, 1924, to William G. and Edna M. (Maisack) Wundram. Bill, or Billy, became the youngest of the three Wundram children, sisters Helen and Ruth being born in 1914 and 1921. His father was in advertising for the Davenport Democrat newspaper at the time of Bill’s birth.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 22, 1924. Pg. 16

The family lived at 2041 W. 5th Street in Davenport’s west side. In October 1933, Bill’s father opened a grocery and meat market at 2002 W. 4th Street in the midst of the Great Depression. The west side of Davenport still had many German-speaking residents. Bill would remember helping customers and needing to know German to assist with transactions in later years.

On October 23, 1937, the Wundram family suffered the devastating loss of Bill’s oldest sister Helen. She died two weeks after undergoing appendicitis surgery. This event and the mourning period that followed would be remembered years later in his daily column for the Quad-City Times.

Bill attended Buchannan Elementary School and then Frank L. Smart Intermediate School. By his time at Smart, Bill was already performing for PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) events and fundraisers. He was listed as part of a German Band on many occasions.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, November 5, 1939. Pg. 22

With the Great Depression easing, but the threat of World War II ever increasing; Bill entered Davenport High School. Bill was a student at DHS during the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the war. The Blackhawk, the yearbook for Davenport High School, was filled with the patriotic events and fundraisers the school participated in. Bill, as he would throughout his life, led or participated in many of these activities and shows.

Images from The Blackhawk Yearbook, 1943.

When graduation came in June 1943, Bill listed membership in Quill Club, band, newspaper staff, picture editor of the annual, and President of the Senior Class for his activities. Turning the pages of his senior yearbook, Bill is pictured at many events performing, playing an instrument, or being an emcee.

After high school, Bill did basic training in the Army. He returned to Davenport and very briefly attended Augustana College in Rock Island, IL before being hired at the Davenport Democrat and Leader as a reporter on March 20, 1944. On March 20, 1944, At 5’2″ (according to his World War II draft card) and a young looking 19 years old, it appears Bill took some teasing from rival newspaper The Daily Times when he was first hired.

The Daily Times, June 21, 1944. Pg. 3

Bill flourished at The Daily Democrat as a reporter and photographer. From light-hearted stories to more hard-hitting news, Bill covered it all. On December 6, 1949, Bill was covering an event at Davenport Fire House #5 on Rockingham Road when he attempted to slide down the fire pole. Not realizing it was freshly waxed, Bill ended up at Mercy Hospital with a broken leg and fractured kneecap.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 7, 1949. Pg. 25
The Daily Times, December 7, 1949. Pg. 14

This would turn out to be a life-changing event for the young man. Bill would often reminisce about the beautiful red-haired nurse named Helen he met there. On November 30, 1952, Bill and Helen Voorhees, his beautiful nurse, were married. They would have three children; Tim, Rebecca, and Peter.

In 1955, Bill was named editor for the centennial anniversary edition of the Democrat newspaper. After that, he moved among the editor’s desks as City Editor, Sunday Editor, and Assistant Editor to name a few job positions. The Democrat and Daily Times eventually merged and became The Quad-City Times. It was in 1979 that Bill was selected to become a Saturday columnist for the Times.

Bill’s first column of his observations and local information ran on November 24, 1979. This once-a-week column would eventually become a seven-day-a-week column for the Times before dropping back to five days a week shortly before Bill retired in 2018 after 74 years of newspaper reporting. In his spare time, he wrote ten books and helped with numerous other publications.

The Quad-City Times, November 24, 1979. Pg. 1

Bill didn’t just report the news. He continued the amazing spirit of volunteering that began at Smart Intermediate and Davenport High School. He helped start the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, helped create the Bix 7 road race, was chairman of the Davenport Halloween Parade, supporter of the public libraries, supported the Quad City Symphony, and much, much more.

From left to right: Far left: Davenport librarian Ann Hetzler, Bill Wundram, and Dewey the Library Cat at the Davenport Public library in 1989. Middle: Bill Wundram and Dewey the Library Cat at Dewey’s birthday party in 1989. Far right: Bill reading to children during Night of a Thousand Stars program at the Main branch of the Davenport Public Library.

He supported the Quad Cities through his columns. Bill challenged us to care not only for each other but also for our communities. He was well known for asking, “Is anyone there? Does anyone care?” Bill’s stories could get the community talking.

Bill was an adventurer too. On May 22, 1966, The Sunday Times-Democrat in the Family Focus section ran Bill’s article on his adventure meeting Walt Disney when Mr. Disney flew Bill and Helen out to California for the day on a private Disney plane for an interview. Walt Disney once interviewed for a position with Victor Animatograph company in Davenport. Legend has it that as he left on a train from Davenport he created a character named Mortimer Mouse that eventually developed into Mickey Mouse.

The Sunday Times-Democrat, May 22, 1966. Focus on Family. Pg. 4

Bill met almost every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He told how he snuck into Bob Hope’s limo at the airport to interview him. Bill also wrote about everyday people he met in the Quad Cities or traveling with Helen.

If Bill had to pick another occupation, it might have been circus clown. He loved the circus and trained to be a clown. He would write about his experiences traveling with different small circuses. He and Helen would travel and take adventures that he shared with readers. Just like at home, Bill made friends wherever he went.

The Quad-City Times, April 21, 1998. Pg. 27

In 2009, I climbed up to Davenport City Hall’s attic with Bill and former Mayor Bill Gluba to explore. Bill went all the way up to the bell tower where he rang the bell. Over and under pipes and up and down steep ladders. Nothing was going to stop his adventure.

Quad-City Times, September 27, 2009. Pg. 2

Here in Special Collections, we loved our time looking at pictures with Bill, chatting about questions people may have asked him, and checking on addresses of old businesses for his research. One of our last challenges was helping him research the history of old dog tags and Davenport city ordinances in 2017. Bill greatly appreciated libraries and local history.

The Quad-City Times, August 6, 2017. Pg. A2

We could go on for days writing about Bill’s accomplishments and stories. We feel we have barely touched the surface of all he accomplished throughout his life.

We send our condolences to his family and friends. Maybe we should all remember how Bill greeted people with “Hello friend!” even if you were just meeting him for the first time. That openness to others touched many lives over the years. Thank you, Bill, for your sharing your love of news, adventure, and people with us all. We will miss you, dear friend.

We can sincerely say there will never be another Bill Wundram. He was one of a kind and we are grateful he shared his talents with us over the years.

(posted by Amy & Cristina)

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