Dieter Klagge died on September 6th in Chicago at 85 years of age with family at his side after a brief period of illness. His life was a remarkable journey of triumph over adversity as well as an example of the power of human connections and relationships. Dieter was born in Stettin, Germany on May 4th, 1935 to parents Edith Klagge (née Lemke) and Leonhard Klagge, the second of 3 children. His early years were clouded by the turbulence of WWII, with his family becoming refugees in 1944 as their home city was leveled during the war. They clandestinely crossed the border from East to West Germany in 1947, ultimately settling in Kiel, Germany where he completed his primary education. Beyond the challenges posed by the war and post-war period, Dieter also carried the burden of a congenital heart condition that sapped him of energy throughout his childhood. Despite (or because of) this condition, he resolved to celebrate every moment of his life as a gift and a grand adventure, and in that he was successful until his final days.
In 1957 he was invited to study in America under the sponsorship of his sister, Ingeborg Klagge. He joined Inge and his aunt, Frieda Klagge in Chicago, which became his adopted home for the remainder of his life. Soon after his arrival, he underwent open heart surgery to repair his cardiac defect, one of the early patients of this pioneering procedure. After a successful recovery, he initiated collegiate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, starting work as a Technical Writer at Borg Warner in 1963. He transferred to Bell and Howell in 1966 where he worked as a technical coordinator and discovered the world of photography, which became a lifelong passion, starting with his documentation of 1960s Chicago and its iconic skyline. He ultimately joined Xerox as a salesman, a job in which he flourished from the early 1970s until his retirement.
It is safe to say that there may have been no better ambassador for the cities of Chicago and Evanston than Dieter. He was also a true citizen of the world, and he devoted his life to travel, amassing a vast library of slides that record trips to Uganda, Argentina, Russia, Tibet, North Korea, Iran, Kamchatka, Antarctica, and all points in between (114 countries in total), with numerous photographs sold to various media. He was also a patron of the arts, particularly opera, and regularly attended performances at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He also enjoyed theater, and volunteered as an usher with the Saints into his 80's.
Dieter's most enduring and profound legacy will be in the connections he made during his life. He cherished people and their stories, and he nurtured relationships with family and friends around the world. As a member of The Friendship Force of Chicago, he hosted visitors from many countries and was a strong advocate for reaching across borders to celebrate our commonalities as well as our differences. Dieter was also one of the most ebullient hosts and attendees of a party (any party) that you could ever meet. He enjoyed philosophical discussions with people of every age and culture, but equally loved dancing until dawn, well into his 70's. He was a beloved and generous son, brother, uncle, and great uncle. He is survived by his sister, Ingeborg Larsen, his brother, Jürgen Klagge, nieces and nephews in the US and Germany, and numerous friends whom he treasured.
For more, hear Dieter interviewed on WBEZ public radio, 12/29/2014.
Contributions may be made in his memory to The Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Friendship Force of Chicago.
Published in Chicago Tribune on Oct. 9, 2020.