Alice (Wojtecki) Whyte

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  • "Many here at Home Harbor became good friends of Alice and..."
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NORTH BETHESDA, MD - Alice Whyte (nee: Wojtecki) was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin December 1, 1922 to Hulda Neuman Wojtecki and Joseph Wojtecki. In childhood her family moved to Racine where she began a fascinating life of diverse chapters and accomplishments. During World War II she was a trap drummer, known as “The Female Gene Krupa” in Virgil Whyte’s All-Girl Band, “America’s Musical Sweethearts” discovered by Navy scouts at Lake Geneva. She toured 46 states coast-to- coast in 1500 shows, her service including a 15 month honorary commission on a USO tour in 1944 and 1945. Alice’s favorite engagements included a massive concert and a tiny one: One on the aircraft carrier the USS Ranger, which the band boarded precariously, climbing ropes by night for a concert on an aircraft elevator; the second was backing Judy Garland in a little hospital show, going into the wards of the war-wounded. When Virgil Whyte was drafted off the tour, Alice rehearsed and led the band, maintaining a standard of perfection as she did in her subsequent pursuits. Following the war, she started an all-women light-jazz combo, The Vadel Quintet, who created their own arrangements and played a standing engagement in a downtown Chicago supper club for five years. Best remembered as owner-operator of Whyte Apparel near the Johnson Rondelle on 14th Street, Alice was for 30 years between the 1950s and 1980s a respected Racine clothier, using her upbeat personality as a former drummer and band leader to set the individual fashion tone for her following of loyal customers. Self-made by any standard, she started business with one rack of dresses purchased in Milwaukee and décor she gathered from dried brush on the banks of Lake Michigan. She was adamant that her brother Virgil be credited for her success owing to his contribution of the first floor of his own house at 14th and Center streets for her store. A bay window from his dining room and the conversion of a small barber shop on a lower level provided her with display windows and a dramatic two level entrance. Alice’s Whyte Apparel business succeeded as women found expanded roles in the workplace and the fabrics evolved to easier-care, so business attire could be laundered and drip-dried. Tourism from the northern Chicago suburbs expanded her clientele. She loved especially the double knits and weekender ensembles, sometimes selecting a patron’s entire wardrobe. Rarely advertising, she relied on word of mouth and how “her ladies” presented in public and was known on rare occasions to refuse to sell an outfit that made a customer look decidedly bad. She was often seen outside her store looking impeccable in her suit while washing her display window to be sure it didn’t have streaks, as her family scolded her loudly and in vain. Nearing retirement from her apparel business, she married Richard Skoglund, a widowed neighbor and enjoyed some 30 years of carefree inseparability, including summers up north in Minocqua. Soon after their marriage, she made a gift of a joint crypt where on death they would be laid to rest together, and, leaving nothing to chance, she inscribed their names in bronze. In handwritten notes to her final wishes, Alice began, “Richard darling, you were the love of my life,” expecting, incorrectly, to precede him in death. At the 50- year observances of World War II, her former band’s reunion in Racine was facilitated at the Prairie School, where Alice with some coaxing by younger musicians came out of musical retirement and played the drums. The resulting concerts and interviews are curated at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, where her portrait drumming was featured in a year-long exhibition about the band. The Pentagon awarded Alice custody of the band’s World War II Commemorative Community Flag. As Alice became increasing blind and ill, she realized her desire to move to Washington DC to be near the care of her niece and only relative. She died in nursing care in suburban North Bethesda, Maryland on June 7, 2015 at age 92. She was preceded in death by her brother Virgil Whyte, sister-in-law Ella Standish Whyte and husband Richard Skoglund. She is survived by her niece and nephew-in-law, Florice Whyte Kovan and Allan Kovan of Washington DC; grand-niece Bridget Burke of Fargo, grand-nephew Christopher Burke of San Francisco and great-grand-nephew Paul Matthews on Guam. Alice is remembered fondly by friends and acquaintances in music, charitable work, business and retirement pastimes. Alice Whyte’s funeral plans mirror the life of a complex, accomplished and sensitive woman who loved her family and loved Racine. On death, following preparation by the Joseph Gawler’s Sons funeral home in Washington DC, she made her last journey, a homecoming flight to Racine. Final arrangements are with the Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral Home, 803 Main Street. Visitation 5-7 PM, Monday, June 15. Private interment. MARESH-MEREDITH AND ACKLAM FUNERAL HOME 803 MAIN ST. RACINE, WI 53403 (262) 634-7888 Please send condolences to www.meredithfuneralhome.com

Funeral Home
Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral Home
803 Main Street
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 634-7888
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Published in Racine Journal Times on June 14, 2015