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Dr. Gertraude Christa Wittig, professor emerita of biological sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, died March 2, 2011 in Vienna, Austria while seeking medical treatment.
She was born October 4, 1928 in Glauchau, Saxony, Germany, the only child of Heinrich and Ella Frida (nee Grunder) Wittig. At the age of 18, she fled the oppression of East Germany and crossed through the Iron Curtain into West Germany where she was admitted to the University of Marburg in 1947. She earned a doctorate in zoology and botany from Marburg in 1955 and completed the state exam later the same year, going on to graduate magna cum laude with a doctorate in natural sciences from the University of Tubingen. She remained as a research scholar at Tubingen for three more years and in 1958 she came to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship to extend her research in entomology and insect pathology at the University of California at Berkeley.
She also learned electron microscopy there and in 1959 joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a research specialist in insect pathology and electron microscopy. She moved to Laurel, Maryland, and from there in February of 1962 she moved to Corvallis, Oregon where she served as a research microbiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.
After six years with the Forest Service, Dr. Wittig moved to Edwardsville, Illinois to take a position as a microbiology professor at SIUE. She remained at SIUE for 30 years, retiring in 1998.
A year after coming to SIUE, Dr. Wittig received a National Science Foundation instructional equipment grant to fund an electron microscopy curriculum at the university and to write the manual for creating an electron microscopy laboratory. At the time, it was the only regular electron microscopy course in the region. She later received another NSF grant to develop entomology instruction in the SIUE Department of Biological Sciences, and to write a manual and study guide for the insect morphology lab.
During her career, she published dozens of scientific papers, written in both German and English. She made provision for them to be donated after her death to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, specifically to the Women's Studies Research Center, and established the Wittig Family Fund to provide grants to the center to be used for the advancement of women in science.
Dr. Wittig greatly encouraged the participation of women in the sciences. She was an active member of the Association of Women in Science, the American Association of University Professors, the Society for Ethnic and Special Studies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Entomological Foundation. An ardent feminist, Dr. Wittig also belonged to the National Organization for Women and the League of Women Voters.
Dr. Wittig's name is among those inscribed on the Plaza Wall dedicated in 2012 that features SIUE employees with 15 or more years of service. A Japanese lantern sculpture has been placed in the Gardens of SIUE in her memory. She left no immediate survivors, but her influence lives on in the many whose lives she touched.
Published in Edwardsville Intelligencer from Sept. 19 to Sept. 20, 2013