Johnny Whitteker, a lifetime resident of Williamsburg, passed away at the Woodland Villa Nursing Home in Long Sault on Thurs., April 7, 2016. He was 89.
He was born in Elma on Oct. 28, 1926 to his parents, Iden and Zella Whitteker (nee Casselman). When he was six, the family moved from Elma to Williamsburg, in the Dr. Locke era. He attended public school in Williamsburg at SS#12, and high school at Morrisburg Collegiate Institute, where he was a member of the cadets. He ventured out west, on two harvest excursions, with a few friends during his teenage years. After graduation, Johnny bought the family farm, married his wife, Audrey in 1948, and lived and worked there with Audrey for the rest of his life. He worked the farm, along with two of his sons, Brian and Bruce, up to a few months before his death.
Johnny was a member of the South Dundas community for his entire life, and served on municipal council for 52 years. He had the privilege of being one of the longest serving municipal politicians in the history of the province of Ontario. He touched countless lives in this community, and his work continues to be recognized and appreciated to this day.
Johnny’s political career began in 1955, and continued until he retired in 2006. A committed municipal representative, he didn’t miss one township council meeting during his 52 years in office. He was first elected to Williamsburg Township Council in 1955, as a councillor. From 1960-1966, he held the position of deputy-reeve, and from 1967-1997, he was reeve. He was proud of the fact that he worked with the township to get 70 percent of the roads in Williamsburg Township paved, fulfilling one of his election promises. Also, he provided leadership to ensure that Williamsburg Township had the lowest level of taxes in the three United Counties, and had amassed a reserve of $2.25 million at the time of amalgamation. He was the first mayor of the amalgamated municipality of South Dundas, holding that position for two terms from 1998-2003. Johnny was proud that, in his time as mayor, South Dundas improved infrastructure, built bridges, initiated a broadband telecommunication fibre-optic network, and built a new water treatment plant serving Iroquois and Morrisburg. For a man who never used a computer himself, he had the foresight and vision to anticipate future needs for economic development. In his final position with the municipality, he served as councillor for Williamsburg Ward from 2003-2006.
In addition to his 52 years on local council, Johnny was a member of United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry council for 44 years, from 1960-2003. He was honoured to be acclaimed warden of the United Counties in 1975. He served on many committees during this time period such as social services, roads, finance, and welfare.
From 1967 to 2008, Johnny served as a member of the South Nation Conservation Authority in various capacities, including vice-chair and chair of the executive committee.
Also, from 1977 to 2006, he was a member of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and served as chairman and vice-chair. As chair, he oversaw the opening of a new, modern, health unit facility.
For Johnny, however, municipal politics was not about time served. He was elected to serve the needs of the community, and made a concerted effort to affect change and make a difference in the lives of his constituents. He was recognized with numerous provincial awards such as the Building Strong Communities Award celebrating 50 years of public service, presented by the minister of municipal affairs and housing, and local honours such as having the Williamsburg Ball Park renamed and dedicated as the J.C. Whitteker Park in 1997. He also received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals honouring volunteer achievements of citizens in 2002 and 2012, respectively.
Johnny’s accomplishments were not limited to his political career. For 65 years, he was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and held the position of Noble Grand, and as District Deputy Grand Master of Eastern District. He was a lifetime member of the Lutheran Church, and was a church council and choir member at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Williamsburg. In 1996, he retired from the Old-timers Hockey Club, but only after breaking his leg while playing on his 70th birthday.
Johnny truly cared about the people he was serving and always took time to speak with them. He felt that by talking to people you found out what they felt about a subject, and then he used that knowledge to make informed decisions at the council table. He was respected for his honesty and his willingness to make tough decisions when needed. He also knew how to have fun, taking part in activities such as baseball games, tug of war competitions, and wood sawing contests. He also became known in the area for his singing ability, and often the request came for him to sing from his repertoire of three songs: “The Auctioneer”, “A Boy Named Sue” and “Big John.”
Johnny was, at heart, a family man, and was married to his wife, Audrey, for 68 years. They met at a box social and Johnny bid on Audrey’s fried chicken. He often recounted that he was so nervous eating that he could hardly swallow. They courted for over a year until Johnny popped the question. The two were married a month later.Together they had six children, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Johnny loved to be around the grandchildren, and later, the great grandchildren, often teasing them and giving them nicknames. He was always very supportive of them and their endeavors… he would go to their skating competitions, baseball games, piano recitals, and hockey games, and proudly share stories about their accomplishments. He loved to play games with them — cribbage, checkers, arm wrestling, full body “lifts,” and hiding under the table playing hide-and-go seek. He loved to laugh and play jokes on them, like chasing them with a stuffed owl, and scaring them with a Halloween mask, to name a few. His grandchildren speak of the lessons they learned from their grandfather of working hard, giving back to the community, being honest, being frugal, and not taking life too seriously.
He also loved his dogs. He always had a dog on the farm to help herd the cows, but more often than not, Johnny chased the cows, and the dog sat on the front seat of the truck waiting for him to return. His last dog, Benny, misses him dearly.
Johnny’s commitment to his community and family never came with an expectation of accolades or recognition. He dedicated his life to “his” community, not to increase his own profile, but because he believed in what he was doing. He used a common sense approach to do what he could to make life better for his friends, neighbours, constituents, and his family.
He is survived by his wife; his children, Brenda Whitteker of Williamsburg, Brian (Jeannie) of Williamsburg, Betty Lussier (Terry) of Ottawa, Bruce (Sharon) of Williamsburg, Berneice Whitteker (Rick) of Brockville, and Barry (Beverly) of Roanoke, Va; his sisters, Glenna Brown of Toronto and Helen McMillan of Kingston; and his brother-in-law, Russell Casselman (Betty) of Brockville. He will be fondly remembered by grandchildren Leslie (Jeff), David (Deanna), Lindsay (Kevin), Robbie (Amy), Lauren, Tyler (Lesley-Anne), Erin (Erik), Maegan, Alyssa (Andrew), Kassie, Jessica, Cidell, Bailey, and Tracy; and great-grandchildren Gavin, Carter, Dylan, Brooke, Lucy, and Wyatt. He was predeceased by his brother, Ronald, and his infant brother, Russell. He is also survived by cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Family and friends gathered to celebrate Johnny’s life at the Marsden and McLaughlin Funeral Home in Williamsburg on Sat., April 9. An Odd Fellows service was held on Saturday evening. The funeral service was held at South Dundas Lutheran Community Church on Sun., April 10 with Rev. Diane Raddatz officiating, followed by interment at New Union Cemetery in Williamsburg. The pallbearers were Brian Whitteker, Bruce Whitteker, Barry Whitteker, David Waddell, Robbie Waddell and Tyler Lussier. The honourary pallbearers were Glen Cunningham, Mike Waddell, Rowdy Gillard, Dennis O’Grady, Bill Kavanaugh, and Vern Cronmiller.
Donations to the South Dundas Lutheran Community Church or New Union Cemetery would be gratefully acknowledged by the family.
Online condolences may be made at www.marsdenmclaughlin.com