There are several places Vern Witten can be spotted in Portales.
He can be found volunteering at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, tutoring area students, or during the first week of November, in his kitchen whipping up a batch of his famous peanut brittle for the Portales Methodist Church’s Turkey Bazaar.
He’s a jack of all trades, and at 89, cutting wood is a favorite pastime.
The Missouri native can also be seen at the Greyhound Arena. The World War II veteran and retired math professor, is an avid fan of Eastern New Mexico University’s basketball programs and rarely misses a home game.
Witten is a native of Missouri who came to Portales in 1964 to teach math at ENMU. He retired in 1991 but continued to work with the university’s Upward Bound program.
He’s married to Ida Lou Witten. They have three daughters, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren scattered across the country from California to Georgia.
He and his wife elected to stay in Portales after he retired because they made the community their home.
What other Eastern athletic programs are you and your wife fans of?
We’re fans of volleyball, softball and we try to get into soccer.
What other clubs and organizations do you belong to here?
I teach Sunday school at the Methodist church. I served more than 20 consecutive years on the Wesley Foundation Board. I also serve on the Habitat board and ReStore Committee. I’m a member of the American Legion.
What do you remember most about serving in World War II?
My service (in the U.S. Army) was in Greenland where you’re isolated from material things. Survival is the name of the game. You associate with men of different faiths who give you a perspective that you would not otherwise have had. The discussions after midnight weren’t about women, it was about philosophies and so forth. I was in Greenland a total of 16 months. I only saw fresh vegetables one time and it was celery on Thanksgiving. When we came back from overseas, the first thing I asked for was a salad.
What about a memory from the rest of your time in the service?
I was at a training in New Orleans in 1957 riding the public city bus. I was sitting in the part way back. An elderly black woman boarded the bus. I was going to get up and give her my seat. The soldier next to me gripped my thigh and said “Sit down soldier, I know what you’re doing and this isn’t the time or place to make a scene.”
Besides your famous peanut brittle, what else can you make?
That’s the only thing I’m known for cooking. I can follow my wife’s cooking instructions, but that’s it.
Why did you choose math to teach?
That was a natural subject for me. My grandfather that didn’t get past the third grade was naturally good at it. I had trouble reading but I knew my multiplication tables. When I was in third grade I could multiply fractions.
How did you meet your wife?
I finished by bachelor degree and I was 36 years old. My father had a heart attack, and since I just finished a year of teaching, I went home to tend to my father’s farm. I never had a serious girlfriend and my father had me go out and buy something. Because there was a young lady working there, he thought if I had any common sense at all, this young lady could make a good wife. Whether it was his plan or not, it worked. We met in June 1955 and I gave her an engagement ring in August. We were raised 15 miles within each other and never met before.
— Compiled by PNT Senior Writer Christina Calloway