Heitz brothers left indelible marks
on Madison community
Wilbur Heitz, 92, and Bernard Heitz, 87,
died within two days of each other
(March 2013) – In January, many Madison, Ind., residents joined the Heitz family in mourning the loss of two brothers who made the rivers and skies of Jefferson County a little more special. Wilbur and Bernard Heitz passed away just two days apart on Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, respectively. Wilbur’s son, Michael, reflects on what the two meant to their families saying, “Spend time with either of them and you would come away richer for it.”
Bernard, who died at 87, was survived by his wife Norma; three daughters, Susan Culbreth, Connie Heitz, Lynn Heitz McKay; and three sons, Patrick Henry Heitz, and twins John and Joseph Heitz. Wilbur, 92, was survived by his wife, Mary; two daughters, Mary Jacque “Jackie” Hall and Ann Wisman; and two sons, William “Bill” and Michael Heitz.
Wilbur Heitz posed
for this portrait
by his son, Michael, who said, “He
smiled a lot, but
not much for
Both men actively shared their love of boating and aviation. Wilbur, affectionately known as “Wib,” served as president of the Madison Regatta in 1973 and spent many years as a member of the board. For 25 years he was an official for the Unlimited Hydroplane Circuit, and he and his wife traveled the world as timekeepers for boating races. He built three different clocks for the races over the years, inspired by drivers’ complaints that the hand cranked clocks were too inaccurate.
Bernard Heitz served on the Madison Air Board for many years and worked with the board to get the current Madison Airport built after the runway at the Jefferson Proving Ground shut down. He was also active in the airport’s improvements, including a runway extension which allowed for a greater variety of aircraft to make use of the airport.
For Wilbur, boating was very much a family affair. Michael recalls being drafted to help string lights for the Regatta and jokes that family trips consisted of attending boat races. As a child, “I’d been to Washington, D.C., and I hadn’t seen the Washington Monument or the Smithsonian, but I sure did see the Potomac!”
Michael recalls that his father “treated the owner of the boat the way he treated the pit crew member” and wasn’t concerned with the amount of money a person had, but whether they had something interesting to say. His brother, Bill, agrees that racing was very much a family thing. “All of us were interested in the Regatta.”
Bernard Heitz loved to fly.
Bernard became active in aviation, being accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps and entering the Cadet Program during World War II. He worked as a corporate and commercial pilot for many years and enjoyed flying his own Piper Comanche plane. Pat recalls that his father had a unique way of letting the family know that it was time to pick him up at the airport. He would buzz the house with his plane.
While his wife, Norma, enjoyed the fact that the plane gave her and her husband plenty of freedom to travel, she was not as fond of flying as Bernard. She joked that her role with the plane was that of “passenger, and not a very good one!” She has fond memories of traveling across the country but says the couple always enjoyed knowing that home was waiting at the end of each journey. Norma reflects that her husband believed that “to come back to Madison was the best part of most of the trips. He loved it here.”
Bernard’s creativity and love of planes later led him to a form of art that proved popular with aviation enthusiasts. One year, an inspection of his plane showed that it needed a new propeller. When he learned that the old one was going to be tossed, he decided to keep it and do something with it. Having founded Heitz Sign Co., today operated by son Pat, Bernard was familiar with decals and design. He was soon mounting and decorating propellers with vintage style artwork inspired by the paintings that adorned the noses of the bombers during World War II. These pieces found their way into collections around the world. “He made friends all over Europe,” Pat says.
Wilbur and Bernard where both noted for a talent with mechanics and repairs that is not often found today. Wilbur’s affinity and talent for mechanics is reflected in his son, Michael’s, early memories.
“I remember growing up and going past car repairs shops and wondering how they made any money because didn’t everyone’s dad fix their car?”
Bill recalls, “He could fix anything. He and his brothers built the house I grew up in.”
Norma traces the brothers’ creativity and ability with mechanics to their childhood saying, “When you grow up like that during the Depression, you learn what to do with a lot of things.”
Both brothers had long and happy marriages, but each proved a bit tight-lipped when it came to sharing relationship advice. In an article celebrating their 60th anniversary last year, Bernard and Norma were asked to share tips, but Bernard would only say, “I think that young people who are serious will work their problems out.”
Michael laughingly says that the secret to his parents’ 71-year marriage could be summed up by an event at his cousin’s wedding. The deejay had a special dance for married couples, asking those who had been married for one year or less to sit down, then five years, and so on. Finally, Bernard and Wilbur were the last ones left dancing with their wives. The deejay approached the couple with the microphone and asked what made their marriage such a success.
Michael says, “Dad just looked at him and completely deadpan said, ‘Ask her.’ I kind of think that’s the answer!”
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