Former Quad-City Times columnist and associate editor Bill Wundram passed away Feb. 14, 2023, at age 98.
The longtime columnist retired in 2018 after a staggering 74-year career in local media.
“During his 74 years in the profession, Bill handled just about every job in the business, from reporter to city editor, finally settling in at the impossible task of writing a column seven days a week,” the equally legendary Don Wooten wrote in a column for The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus in 2018.
Along the way, Wundram helped start the Bix Society Jazz Festival, joined the circus, and wrote 10 books, while sampling and chronicling just about every kind and degree of Quad-Cities activity.
“His work did not go unnoticed,” Wooten wrote, noting the Iowa Associated Press established a Bill Wundram Column Writers Award. “St. Ambrose University honored him — and itself — with a doctorate in arts and letters, and his name and visage became part of the landscape, with a statue, bust, even a bobblehead, and the Bill Wundram Parkway, in which a Wundram hotdog could be purchased.”
Born William Louis Wundram Dec. 21, 1924, in Davenport, Wundram spent more than 70 years sharing his love of his travels, including all things Quad-Cities. He grew up in Davenport’s West End.
His family’s home was located at 2041 W. Fifth St. and in about 1933, his father opened a grocery store a block away on the northwest corner of Fourth and Cedar streets, according to the Davenport, Iowa history page on Facebook.
“Bill attended Frank L. Smart Intermediate School where he enjoyed hamming it up in front of an audience,” the bio says. He graduated from Davenport High in 1943, where he served as senior class president and worked on the yearbook staff as the picture editor.
He was involved in various dramatic presentations, plays, comedy skits, playing emcee, etc., and is even pictured in the yearbook “in drag” clowning around during the homecoming.
A teenage cub reporter
By 1944, Bill had already landed a newspaper reporter’s job working for the Davenport Democrat and Leader. Wundram would go on to serve in the newspaper business for 70-plus years, much of the time as the Quad-City Times’ featured columnist.
For many years, he was the only known columnist in America who wrote seven days a week. Over his career, he held positions as city editor, associate editor, Sunday editor and lifestyles editor.
Wundram was named Master Columnist by the Iowa Press Association, and as a reporter/writer he covered both popes and presidents, dating back to Iowa’s own Herbert Hoover.
A huge QC champion
He was one of the QC’s biggest cheerleaders, and in 1989, he became a charter member of the board of directors when the Hall of Honors was founded at Davenport Central High School.
Wundram, along with the mayor of Davenport and a musician, were the three organizers of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Society, and its nationally known Bix jazz concerts.
For 17 years, he was the chairman of Davenport’s Halloween Mardi Gras. He was the organizer and chairman of the first professional division of the QC United Way and he formed the Midwest’s first version of Friends of the Library and served as its president.
When Scott County had no effective handle on its homeless pet problem, he and several lawyers and do-gooders formed the Scott County Humane Society, the Facebook bio says. Wundram has been president of the Friends of Art, chairman of the Beaux Arts Ball and Grand Gallery Ball.
A Disney story
One of his biggest interviews was with THE Walt Disney (a longtime idol of Wundram), in 1965, who nearly settled in Davenport.
A man from Disney’s office offered to fly Wundram to California for a column. The company sent its private jet to the Quad City International Airport to pick up Wundram and his wife, according to a 2016 interview with Local 4.
Once they arrived, he was taken to Disney’s office in Burbank.
“It was like a big beautiful living room and there he was plinking around at the piano,” Wundram said then. “I said, ‘Mr. Disney, why me from Davenport?’”
“One time I applied for a job in Davenport, Iowa,” Wundram recalled the response from Disney. “I can’t remember the name of the company, but I think it was something like Victor. They made slides and they needed an artist and after going through all my stuff, they told me my artwork wasn’t any good.”
However, Disney went on to tell Wundram the company did offer him a job selling movie projectors — an offer Disney declined. Victor Animatograph Corp. was founded in Davenport in 1910 by Alexander Victor.
Disney added one more thing before Wundram left the Burbank office.
“He said, ‘Davenport is a very sweet town. You know, if I had taken that job, I could still be there today,’” Wundram recalled.
Disney died the next year, Dec. 15, 1966, at age 65.
Love for the circus
A well-known passion of Wundram was the circus. During his career, he made countless stops to interview performers with various circuses, capturing their lives under the real or proverbial big top.
During the roast and celebration of Wundram for his 60th anniversary with the Quad-City Times, he was presented with a “Guest Clown For Life” award from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
A statue of Wundram appears at the corner of Davenport’s 4th Street and River Drive outside of the Quad-City Times building in what is known as Bix Plaza.