Sunday, February 25, 2007

In Honor of Dick Bitner - W8HYD

Dick Bitner - W8HYD a "Elmer" and friend!

Though Dick had health challenges, it is not the memory I have of him, even talking to him on the phone the night before he become a “silent key” (a term in Ham Radio to honor Ham radio people that passed on). I remember hope, vitality, a desire to help, the courage to ask for help, an active mind, and a man that moved through life with compassion.

My last memory of Dick was when I talked with him on the phone in the hospital Sunday night. He was glad I called and I gave him the update on the Richmond Ham Fest that I heard from other hams. I talked about my plans of getting my next Ham Radio license this Saturday and how I was going to take the final level Extra test. He encouraged me to go all the way and enjoyed hearing what was going in my life the way he always did. I said we would have to figure out how to get him Ham radio access from his bed. He said, “That won’t be a problem, just bring the cable in through the window and then figure out how to close the window enough.”. We chatted more about some changes I made to my Ham radio equipment and things he was looking forward to when he got home. I then felt it was important that he talk to my wife Barbara, who is also a Ham (KI4GMU.) Dick had been the first person she had talked to on Ham Radio. They talked about his experience in the hospital, the fact that his daughter Heidi was in the same hospital, one floor away, and also talked about the latest news about the global warming training that Dick was inspired to do, with Barbara offering to help. Then she handed the phone back to me. I told him to take good care and I look forward to getting together when he got out. I said I would call him Monday evening again. Though he was weak he sounded lively and upbeat the way he always was. I told him how much he meant to us and we needed him to get well fast! I think something bigger than both of us had other plans. He became a silent key before I could call back the next night.

Two things I have learned from my years of volunteering taking humor to hospitalized cancer patients. When people are extremely ill make sure to let them know how important they are to you, what a difference they have made in your life, and how much you care about them while you can, for you never know when it may become harder to reach them as it is with Dick now. The other thing is I personally believe people that pass on somehow can hear us so it’s still worth the effort. It seems to me that death is less painful if I take time to feel the loss and remember all the wonders of their life and bring them into my heart. That was easy with Dick, for like Barbara said, we know he is going to a great place!

His wife Molly knew how important the Ham radio family was to Dick and I was honored she asked me and Charles Murray to share what was going on over the net. Though difficult, I was also honored to announce his passing for I respected him so much. Molly mentioned that it was a shame he did not get to talk more on his new antenna and I told her in our world of Ham Radio part of the victory is getting that big antenna up in the air and working. He accomplished that! He also accomplished a number of other things in the last year or so that I know about. One was being honored with the ability to give the latest information about what we can do to slow the global warming problem. He completed a business training I gave and was a great asset in the class. He had become the President of the local amateur radio society (our RARS) and was VERY proud of that. He had started to develop a team of new business allies to create a whole new business opportunity that would help him and others. I am sure there are many more.

When I met his son Scott at the funeral for the first time and mentioned I was a Ham Radio friend that meant something to him and he lit up. He told me how he grew up with Ham Radio friends though he never got his license after failing the test by one point at age 12. “I grew up around ham radio and just saw it as part of life. I remember the lights dimming in the house when dad would turn the linear amplifiers on”. He was encouraged to take the test many times but just seemed to be to busy with life--and now he knows he is going to take it right away! He also planned on taking a few of his dad’s key radios back with him and hoped to even reclaim his fathers call sign. I told him to take my card for there were a lot of Ham’s in this area who were good friend with his dad. that would be glad to help him.

I also learned at the funeral that he was a Free Mason and was deeply moved by the Masonic last rights ceremony at the funeral, delivered with clear love and respect of the passing of their friend and brother. Each of Dick’s children spoke of him as being as great a father as we know him as a friend. They shared stories of him working long hours but always being there for them.

To me Dick was a walking example of a man living his life committed to making a difference in other people’s lives. A man with heart, strength, and compassion; a calming force that made a difference in my life. I intend to take his commitment of making a difference into my life as beacon to do the same and know that all that know him are better persons for it. And I will miss him.

Dick I know you are getting the best reception from where you are!,
Martin Brossman - KI4CFS

And then comment from his son, Scott Bitner:

I would like to open by thanking all those hams who came to Dad’s funeral last Thursday. He would have been moved by that tribute. While I was in the receiving line, I was approached by Martin Brossman who asked me to write to him concerning some of Dad’s adventures in radio. I agreed and here are the results. I hope you find them entertaining, enlightening, and instructional.

My earliest memories of Dad and radio go back to when I was three or four. We had just moved into an apartment in Kent, Ohio, and I remember Dad setting up his shack. It was the corner of their bedroom which was probably all of 12x12. He had a small table with his Heathkit 6er and 2er-some of you older hams may remember these “lunchbox rigs”. I remember him talking and listening long into the night while he was studying.

A couple years later we bought a house in Munroe Falls, and Dad joined the Cuyahoga Falls Radio Club. It was then that he started his career of mentoring. His name’s Mike Young, and Dad took him under his wing. Mike became a fixture of our lives for more than a decade, and, as far as I know, lives only a block from our old house. The last I looked there was an antenna farm behind that house. Mike and dad spent hours discussing theory, building kit radios, trading, and putting up antennas. When dad decided he wanted a tower he found one (I think he traded), and a host showed up to raise it. He’d already dug the hole at the rear of the house, against the foundation, and the tower itself just bolted together. He had a rotor installed. I don’t know why, then, it took all day to put it up-could be because of a liquid that was a mystery to me then:amber/red and white can. A year or so later he installed another antenna on the garage roof. The problem was that we were in the approach path for the local university airfield. Dad was likely ok with the height, but I remember a Piper J3 Cub clipping it with a wheel one afternoon. I also remember calls from neighbors about interference on their tvs. The most unusual call came one frigid winter night, a night of high winds and a full moon in a cloudless sky. She asked if we were aware that there was a UFO hovering over our house. It seems that the winds were so fierce that the antenna was not just turning, ,but spinning, and the reflection from the full moon made it look like a disk!

Dad was always trading and collecting equipment. Once he traded for a linear amplifier. Every time he keyed the mike, the lights in the house dimmed noticeably. When he was using his key, they would flash along with the cw he was sending. The cabinet for the linear was the stand for an awesome array of gear from Heathkit, Hallicrafters, Ranger, and Drake. I used to hang out in the room he used for his shack, listening. There was a bed in there and I would sometimes fall asleep to his voice contacting distant places like Australia.

Dad loved to go to ham gatherings to trade, buy and swap yarns with people that he’d met by voice. I remember going to the big hamvention in Dayton, Ohio, one year. Thousands of hams were there, and we were camping at a local KOA with a group that Dad had started called “Camper’s Net”. One of the guys didn’t know where he was driving his tent stakes and punctured a campground water line. When we went out to breakfast, Mom dove in and helped the waitress serve coffee. We also went to many smaller gatherings in Findlay, Ohio. I think that was where dad first saw and fell in love with Yaesu radios. All I know for sure is that one day, a bunch of gear was gone and in their place was a singe transceiver-an FT 101 E.

Field days with the Falls club were always busy and exciting. We had a tent or trailer for each band, and the airport (the one next door) would turn into a temporary communications hub for that long weekend in June. One of the temporary shacks was a disaster relief truck that the Red Cross let us use. I think it was for the 2 meter team. Well, one of the other kids and I were pretending to drive it and we must have turned on one of the accessory switches, because the battery died. Dad was not amused, but the club had done well on contacts that year, so he wasn’t too mad. Another club activity was the rabbit hunt. A club member was designated as the rabbit and had to take a mobile rig and hide, in his car, within a designated area, say 5x5 miles. The rabbit would then transmit for one minute in ten. The other hams were “hounds” and, using loop antennas, had to find the rabbit. I think there was a time limit of 3 hours. Dad was rabbit several times and I always went with him on these summer afternoon games.

When I was ten, I noticed a moving van a couple doors down the street. There were two station wagons in the drive and both had Michigan plates with call signs on them. The Nicholas Family had arrived, and with it a lifelong friendship with another ham. Nelson had more stuff than Dad, and they were constantly sharing and working together. The summer of ’76, Dad and Nelson and a couple others decided to do their own thing for Field Day and got permission to set up in the parking lot of the Junior High next door. The problem was setting up antennas. The solution was a bow and an arrow with a messenger line attached-shoot the arrow over the top of a light standard and attach the wire to the messenger, then pull it over the top. We used Nelson’s tent trailer for a shack and had loads of fun. That spring I tried to get my novice license. I could send at 25, receive at 20, but even with Dad coaching, I failed the test by one question. I could tell Dad was a little sad, but he didn’t push the issue.

By this time the shack had moved into the basement. We’d divided it up into two rooms with my grandmother living in one room and Dad using the other for his radios. He drilled a hole through the basement wall and ran his antenna cables through, and for few years all was well. One day, I went in there to get a can of soup out of the pantry cupboard we had in there and noticed a yellowjacket drifting around, then another, and another… ! Seems Dad forgot to seal the opening with putty.

A few years after this, I went to the Falls club annual auction and flea market. I was a freshman in college and I was looking for something unique to do on campus. There, sitting on a table, was an old Drake 2B with speaker box. I was in love, and paid the man his asking price of $110, U.S. When I showed Dad a little later, he was pleased with the purchase and even asked if he could borrow it from time to time. I still have it, but it’s missing the audio amplifier tube. Dad showed me how to it and I spent long hours studying with the old mono headphones listening to international broadcasts and cw. Since I didn’t have space for an antenna, Dad suggested I hook a wire from the screwdown antenna lead to the ground screw of the plug over my desk. My dorm building was my antenna, thanks to Dad’s wisdom.
Throughout all this, Dad was teaching kids and adults the mysteries of radio, setting up phone patch communications for exchange students, and participating in SkyWarn.

When my family moved to N.C., Dad continued these activities, and the legacy of his desire to help others is manifest in the people who came to us at the funeral and thanked us. If you want to be a part of this tradition, you could contribute to the foundation established in his name, or, even better, find some bright, bored, kid who needs an outlet for his energy, talent, and imagination, take that kid under your wing and mentor, mentor, mentor!

Dad would approve.

Scott Bitner

Biography at the funeral web site:
The Ham Radio club that he was president of up to his passing:

To learn more about Ham Radio / Amateur Radio you can check out my ham resource page:

And my Ham Radio Pictures:
From the blog: In Memory of a Mentor

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