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Bitterman leaves legacy of service to veterans

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Updated: January 12, 2013 6:16AM

Friends and acquaintances of long-time Yorkville resident Arnold Bitterman agree on two things: Arnie was always a Marine, and he left a legacy that will help hundreds of veterans and their families in Kendall County.

“He was a Marine. Marines never talk in the past tense,” explained longtime friend Ed Kurz of Yorkville. “I tell people I was in the U.S. Army, but Marines are always Marines.”

Bitterman, 78, died Saturday after a long illness.

The Korea-era veteran was currently sergeant at arms for Yorkville American Legion Post 489 and was a former commander and one of the founding members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Kendall County Torch of Liberty Post 8234, and the Military Order of the Cootie Pup Tent 82.

It may be that pride in being a Marine and a commitment to others who had served in all the armed forces that led Bitterman to his legacy — the establishment of the Veterans Administration Commission of Kendall County.

Although Kurz said many other Illinois counties had established such commissions during the 1960s, Kendall County still didn’t have one in 2000. So in 2001, Bitterman and friend and fellow VFW member Fred Neiser of Sugar Grove looked into what needed to be done to get a local commission and then they headed to the Kendall County Board for approval.

“I don’t think they were overwhelmed with the idea, because they knew he was going to ask for money from the county taxes, but they eventually approved it,” said Kurz, who ended up serving on the eight-member veterans commission board when it was established in 2002. The state mandated, Kurz said, that if a group requested a VAC in their county, the County Board has to agree. It also has to fund them and give them office space.

Ed Dixon, who succeeded Bitterman in 2006 as superintendent of the Kendall commission, said that some might have called Bitterman a cantankerous Marine, but as far as veterans rights and veterans benefits went, “you couldn’t have met a better human being.”

Both Dixon and Kurz agree that Bitterman’s tough exterior hid a soft and caring interior. Kurz mentioned the rides that Bitterman used to provide to veterans who needed to go to Hines Veterans Hospital — a 90-mile round trip from Kendall County — before the veterans commission provided such transportation. And both men also agree that Bitterman was a man who was willing to fight for his cause.

When the County Board tried to set the pay level for the commission’s staff, Bitterman took them to court and won. Former State’s Attorney Tim McCann, now the chief judge of the newly created 23rd Circuit, represented the county in that lawsuit; on learning of Bitterman’s death, he sent an e-mail to the family in which he called Bitterman “a worthy adversary,” and commended him for his efforts to establish the veterans commission.

Dixon said that in 2002, when it was first established, the commission fought for and received $45,500 in benefits for area veterans and their families from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; this year, the commission won around $3.5 million in benefits for the veterans it represents.

“It was Arnie’s tireless efforts that brought this VAC into being 10 years ago,” Dixon said. “Without his efforts, we wouldn’t be able to serve the vets, who are always increasing, the way we do. This office is open because of him. It is something very productive, and he was very proud of what he had accomplished.”

Bitterman was a pipefitter and welder and a member of Local 501 Plumbers and Pipefitters, and also for a time helped wife Beverly with the family upholstery business, Bob’s Upholstery in Yorkville. He is survived by Beverly and daughters Kimberly Allred of Millington and Stacey Earnest of Naperville.

The funeral will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Cross Lutheran Church in Yorkville. Visitation is from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Larson-Nelson Funeral Home in Yorkville.

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