Telling my family's stories
Elmer Lee Ritenour was born to Earl and Cora (Moorehead) Ritenour on 20 July 1929 in Savanna, Carroll County, Illinois. He had dark brown eyes and brown hair, and grew up into a tall, lanky man. As a child, he was given the nickname ”Boke,” by his mother’s family, because of the way his spindly little legs poked out of his shortpants. This nickname stuck with him, in family circles, for the rest of his life.
In high school, Elmer was a member of the National Honor Society. He was a pitcher on the Savanna High School baseball team. He was editor in Chief of the Savanna High School yearbook, the Annavas. Elmer became involved with Barbara Jean Sharp, a catholic girl whose family came from eastern Illinois. They were a well-known couple in the high school, with direct mention of their relationship being made several times in the print editions of their high school yearbooks. For predictions of their future lives, the Annavas wrote that ”Barbara Sharp has taken up a permanent residence with Elmer in South America. Her favorite songs are ’South America, Take it Away’ and ’Elmer’s Tune.’” When describing what each graduating student would leave for others, the yearbook editors wrote that ”Barbara Sharp leaves on the dead run for Elmer.”
On 1 August 1949, when Elmer was 20, he married Barbara Jean Sharp at the Mount Carroll courthouse, Carroll County, Illinois. They had five children together.
Elmer’s career choices were always complicated and rarely successful. About 1950, he obtained an electrician’s degree but decided never to practice the trade because of fears he’d electrocute himself. In the mid 1960’s, he was a salesman for Oscar Meyer Wiener, driving their iconic Wienermobile all over the midwest. The family moved so often that most of the children were born in different cities and states, and rarely attended two years of school in the same place. Around 1970, Elmer got into the grocery store business in the Slinger and West Bend area (Wisconsin), and ended up owning a small chain of grocery stores called ”Pop’s.” His children often worked the store, and Elmer was regularly behind the counter, chatting up the locals that came in. His accounting was not systematic or effective, and he faced increasing competition from Piggly Wiggly and other major grocery stores that were moving into the area. The last grocery store closed in 1985.
Although Elmer was always smitten with Barbara, they were never a happy couple. Her family did not approve of the Ritenour living patterns, and it is thought she had married him to escape from her own complex family situation. His career difficulties combined with the birth of five children in seven years kept their relationship in a constant state of turmoil. On their only family vacation, a drive to Niagara falls, Elmer and Barbara started to fight. Upon reaching Niagara Falls, they decided not to get out of the car, and simply drive home. Barbara eventually left for other men, and Elmer spent several years sitting alone in the dark. Elmer and Barbara were officially divorced on 12 January 1977, about 6 months before I was born.
In the later stages of his life, Elmer lived in a house out near the lake in Washington Township. He had a couple of dogs, including a golden retriever named Snoopy, and lived with a woman named Joyce, who had several children from a previous marriage.
Like most of his family, Elmer had diabetes mellitus, which he did not adequately control. He did not stick to the diet regimens required, preferring instead jelly rolls and candy. He was eventually unable to care for himself and was placed in a constant care facility. Circulation problems in his legs led to the amputation of both legs in 1998. Elmer died in Hartford, Wisconsin, on 6 August 1998 from complications associated with diabetes. He was 69. His body was cremated on 17 August 1998 and the ashes were scattered. During his last Christmas, he was still eating plates of Christmas cookies, which, he insisted, did not have sugar in them. On his death bed, he said he wished he’d never had children.
Elmer is generally remembered as a talkative person who was simultaneously good- humored and argumentative. He was often extremely caustic, and seemed to like to say things to rile people up. At one time or another, he managed to provoke every one of his children into a serious confrontation, which continued until his death. At the same time, he was also sensitive, and was exceptionally hurt by the early loss of his mother to the asylum, the dissolution of his marriage, and other problems. His two older sisters were exceptionally fond of him, and remember him as a jovial, happy child and teenager. He had a hard time with ”every day” life, including housekeeping, accounting, and family relations. At the end of his life, he was uncommonly haggard in appearance. If his personality was typed on the MBTI or Jungian system, it would likely come out as ENTP.