Joseph “Hans” Sittler, was a multi-talented humanist. He was a musician, computer teacher and programmer, auto mechanic, photographer, college Humanities and English teacher, house remodeler, homemaker, bureaucrat, and active father of two children. According to his sister Bay, “He was interested in just about everything, and seemed able to do just about everything.”
Joseph Andrew Sittler IV was born May 21, 1942, in Cleveland, the son of Joseph Andrew Sittler III, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, and Helen Jeanne Seitz Sittler, a homemaker, musician and composer of church music. The family moved to Maywood and then Kenwood when his father became a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and Hans attended Hyde Park High School and the University of Chicago, where he received a B.A. In the mid 1960s, while still a student he played French horn in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, later playing in a faculty quartet at Northern Michigan University.
After completing his M.A., Hans taught at Tougaloo College, a black college in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1967-8, during the tense years of civil rights and voting rights campaigns. From there he went to Northern Michigan University, in Marquette Michigan, where he taught English. There he was among a group of faculty encouraging student dissidents to speak out against the Vietnam War as well as against an entrenched university administration. He moved in 1970 to Kalamazoo, Michigan to teach at Western Michigan University. Believing that the college structure stifled serious thinking on the part of faculty and students alike, he eventually left, and turned to farming with a former student from Northern. Spending several years there, he found himself working on repairing farm machinery, and became fascinated with mechanics. In addition he became an expert on native weeds of Michigan.
Briefly he worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City. He returned to Chicago and took up a career of auto mechanics, a subject in which he was largely self-taught, and which he practiced in the street or alley or his landlady’s garage, often working under the table and exchanging his services for other services or for cash.
Hans had a life long interest and tremendous skill in photography. He specialized in photographing spontaneous situations, for which he had a keen eye; he was reluctant to undertake posed photos and almost always refused to take group portraits.
He married Lisa Ferrill in 1991 and they had two children: Joseph Andrew Sittler V, born January 17, 1992 and Abby Joanne Ferrill-Sittler, born July 14, 1995.
The family bought a handyman-special home in Evanston, and Hans undertook extensive renovations while carrying out the duties of homemaker and child rearer. During some of this time he also worked for a small state-funded social service agency.
Hans became fascinated by computers at this time, and began studying computer programming at Oakton Community College and then in the graduate program at Northeastern Illinois University. He could be found in his own back yard in the middle 90’s watching his daughter play while he explored programming on a laptop computer. As his children grew older he began to teach at Northeastern, offering courses in basic programming, artificial intelligence, and ethics. His curiosity and willingness to work up new and difficult courses on short notice made him a valuable asset there
Divorced in 2003, Hans remained devoted to his children, moving to an apartment walking distance from the family house he had remodeled. He went to the house frequently to be with the children, often cooking dinner, encouraging them to eat regular and healthy meals, teaching them to cook and maintain a house, and assisting with homework. When his daughter Abby became a baseball player he took her to games, borrowing cars or taking bikes on suburban buses to far-flung locations, teaching her to get around by herself and encouraging her in her interests. When his son Joey was ready to go to college but needed extra money that his mother had set aside for house painting, Hans and Joey joined to begin the process of painting the house so that she could free up enough money to pay tuition. It was during this time that he began to feel pains that proved to be the cancer that ended his life.
Hans’ greatest gift was teaching. His younger sister Bay remembers him as “the most skilled teacher, amazingly, agonizingly patient.” “By the time I was twenty he had helped me rebuild the engine on my VW, do basic auto maintenance, solder and form metal, work with wood, make bread, fell trees, ride a motorcycle, go smelt fishing, repair all parts of my bicycle, take and develop photographs, and to have a lifelong love of hardware stores, among other things.”
Hans was passionately interested in the education of children that structured the educational process around each individual child’s learning style. Around 2005 Hans took a position at Roycemore School (a small private school serving students from kindergarten through 12th grade), where he worked at network administrator and kept computers running for the rest of the school, superintended the computer lab, and taught several computer courses. His principled objections to the use of proprietary software (vulnerable to viruses and expensive) led to conflict with some administrators, and the job ended after 2 years. While there he continued to educate himself about computer education and computers in education.
Hans’ insistence on taking the high ground often conflicted with the realities of organizational policies and politics, and this was a reason he never achieved financial success. One could describe him as cranky or undisciplined, overly impatient with bureaucratic rules and procedures, and perhaps he was; but his willingness to stick to his principles – as a teacher, father, and computer administrator – was at the same time admirable. He achieved success as a father and in his years as an educator and tutor. The Renaissance man twice seemed to have found his vocation, as father and pedagogue. As a father, he was able to overcome his deep sadness about the end of his marriage to become a major figure in his children’s lives. In the last several years of his life Hans became a private tutor and had great success working one-on-one with younger students who unique qualities and gifts were in sync with his own educational style.
And if Hans’ seriousness of purpose conflicted with too many institutional rules for him to achieve conventional success, he was generous with his time and talents, setting up computers for family and friends, photographing their events, fixing their cars and machines, and bringing them his famous potato salad and fresh-baked bread.
Hans Sittler died on November 24, 2011 at the Midwest Palliative and Hospice Care Center in Skokie, after a two-month battle with cancer.
He is survived by his two children and his brothers Stephen Seitz Sittler (Claudia), Edward (Ted) Charles Sittler (Cynthia), his sisters Barbara Jeanne Sittler-Whitfield (Harvey) and Bay Jeanne Sittlerand by nephews Stephen Pabody Sittler, Edward (Chum) Wineman Sittler, William Sean Edward Campbell, Paul Maxwell Joseph Campbell, and nieces Amy Sittler, and Lilia Eve Campbell.
Services are being planned for January.
For information: Call Barbara Sittler-Whitfield, 847-733-1251, or Christopher Thale, 847-864-6345.