John and Eileen Vitt: Together in life, together in passing
John and Eileen Vitt were happiest in each other's company, as they had been for nearly seven decades, so their deaths within 53 hours of each other were in keeping with their love for each other.
John died June 9, and Eileen June 12, both surrounded by family in the apartment they shared in Bartlesville.
To celebrate the lives of these two loving persons, visitation with Rosary will be 9-11 a.m. Monday, July 30, at Arnold Moore & Neekamp Funeral Home, 710 S. Dewey, Bartlesville, followed by a joint Memorial Mass at noon, officiated by the Rev. Chris Daigle at St. James Catholic Parish, 5500 Douglas Lane, Bartlesville. Their ashes will be interred July 31 at Memorial Park Cemetery in Bartlesville.
Outgoing and friendly, John and Eileen, both grew up in loving homes in southeast Kansas.
John Francis "Johnny" Vitt was the second-eldest of the seven children of George Henry & Helen "Nellie" (Judge) Vitt, born on a showcase farm outside St. Paul, Kan. As the eldest son, he spearheaded many adventures with his brothers and cousins, such as an impromptu rodeo when he was knocked out by hitting the upper part of a barn door.
After graduating from St. Paul High School, he worked in a creamery until he was old enough to enlist in the Navy during WWII. A typing course he'd taken in school (in hopes of one day attending college), resulted in his assignment as a clerk typist in Washington, D.C., to process GIs returning from Europe. The only vessel he set foot on was the presidential yacht from which he fished with a buddy assigned to duty there.
Eileen was the youngest child of Ernest John & Lucy Loretta (McGraw) Bach of Pittsburg, Kan. Showing musical talent at an early age, Eileen started piano lessons at 5 and was excused from helping in the kitchen or with housework so long as she practiced piano. By 8th grade, she was playing organ at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and piano at a local dance studio. In high school, despite missing a lot of school because of spinal meningitis, she earned the highest grade she ever had in math because her best friend, Pauline Hammerbacher, tutored her as she recuperated. (Eileen and Pauline would end up as sisters-in-law.)
After the war, John enrolled at what then was called Kansas State Teachers College in Pittsburg. At a Halloween party in 1946 at the home of friend Molly Gallagher, Johnny and Eileen met. Even decades later they joked that their relationship blossomed despite their first date, when Johnny accidentally steered Eileen into a mud puddle as they walked to a rural dance.
On Aug. 22, 1950, they married in Pittsburg and moved to Wichita, where he worked for John Deere Co. and then for Boeing, and she worked as a medical records librarian at St. Francis Hospital.
In 1953, the Vitts moved to Oklahoma where John worked as a design draftsman in the Phillips Petroleum Co. Engineering Department. He maintained a small herd of cattle, and for a few years John and Eileen had 400 chickens and an egg-delivery route. Eventually the chickens were sold, and they managed a rural delivery route for the Bartlesville Examiner and the Tulsa World.
They reared their 4 children in a brick house they built southeast of Bartlesville on land they bought in the late 1950s from their landlord, then Washington County Sheriff Elvis "Curley" McCombs.
After their children were in school, Eileen worked as the parish secretary of St. John's Catholic Church and then as a bookkeeper at C.R. Anthony department store.
A collector of salt-and-pepper shakers, Eileen never met a kitchen gadget she didn't want and bribed herself to stop smoking by using dollars saved to buy a microwave oven. She marveled at sunsets and cloud formations. She was a member of the choir at St. John's Catholic Church and later at St. James Catholic Church, and for years sang with or played piano for the Philtones, a choral group sponsored by Phillips Petroleum.
John was a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Phillips Engineers Club. He volunteered to haul surplus groceries from Tulsa to food pantries in Bartlesville. With an infectious sense of humor, he could turn an ordinary situation – such as following the Bama Pie delivery van on the way to town – into a shared adventure, often using words that seemed to be a language of his own making.
Eileen and John shared a determination to prepare their children for adulthood. As John delivered Sunday papers, he developed a challenging back-roads course where he taught his children to drive a standard transmission. Eileen, not having learned to cook as a child, made sure all her children knew how to cut up a chicken, make gravy, use a pressure-cooker and do laundry and other basic housekeeping before they left for college.
At home, nightly family dinners were full of lively discussion and jokes John would hear at work. For the better part of 60 years, the Vitts hosted holiday gatherings and other parties, especially when their children were in high school. It was not unusual for friends of their children to drop in on them even years after college. They enjoyed dancing and for a while were members of a square dance club.
When John was assigned to work on-site at Phillips plants in Texas, Eileen retired and traveled with him. John retired from Phillips in the mid-80s and later worked awhile for Service & Technology Corp.
In retirement, they traveled mostly in the U.S. by automobile. For more than 15 years they spent time during the winter in Sacramento, Calif., building an extended community of friends there.
They celebrated their 40th anniversary with a trip to Germany and their 50th with family in Yellowstone and the Tetons. Their 65th anniversary was celebrated with a large party at the house they'd built.
When in 2011 their doctor suggested living near one of their children, they moved to a Dallas senior community. In 2014, they moved back to Bartlesville to Green Country Village. They shared an apartment at Brookdale South at the time of their deaths.
They are survived by their children, Michael Vitt of Minneapolis, Janet Vitt of Sacramento, Calif.; Cindy Vitt Murphy of Norman, and Elaine Vitt of Bartlesville; children-in-law Maureen McCarthy of Minneapolis and Steve Mouche of Norman; granddaughters Ryan Howe of Norman, Amelia Grant of New Orleans and Caitlin Stapleton of Bartlesville; grandsons Austin Vitt of Minneapolis and Ian and Elliot Stapleton of Austin; three great-grandchildren, Theryn Howe, Ronin Vitt and Harriet Grant; and sisters-in-law Pauline and Vera Vitt, both of St. Paul, Cecelia Vitt of Bartlesville and Barbara Vitt of Tulsa. Both were preceded in death by grandson Gabriel Murphy and two sons-in-law.
John is survived by a brother, Don Vitt of St. Paul, Kan. He was preceded in death by sisters Helen Vitt and Gertrude "Gretchen" Belfield and brothers Walter, Paul and Bernard Vitt. Eileen was preceded in death by sisters Mary K Phillips and Margaret McLean.