Popow ... A life worth living



When you see a tree I want you to remember

a hero by the name of John Wittrig, your Popow.


You may think you never met him, but the truth is you have.

He is all around you, in the trees...and the leaves.

Popow, you see, gave the best of his life

to saving our planet so you could someday,

walk in the woods and hear the birds say

Thank you for keeping our planet this way.


Popow grew up on a Mennonite farm.

He lived simply, not surrounded by unending materiality.

It’s hard to imagine in our world full of gadgets

And gizmos and tweets and other distractions.

But that is the only place you will find

what truly matters to the depths of your mind.


We all need to make sense of our own existence

and the principle of simple took root in your Popow.

He never talked about houses or clothes.

Or who had what things or how fast money grows.

He had just what he needed, nothing more from the store.

For he knew deep down that true happiness came,

from service to others

now you know the same.

You see...Death gives life meaning

for without death we risk living

For only ourselves, as many do

Until it’s too late to look back and redo.

Popow knew that someday he would die.

So he did some thinking on his reason why.

No one can say for sure how he’d put it,

but his actions are as clear as the air that you breathe.

He lived for the future...for you and for me

and future generations he never would see.


Long ago when I was the same age as you

Popow gave me a book that he thought would ring true.

Good thing he paid me to read it because

It was then that I learned to love learning and Zen.


“Sacred Depths of Nature” was the book’s title

That book would become my earthly Bible.

Inside was the story of the birds and bees

And the stars that gave us the flowers and trees.

But more than that, it went on to say

That these things are special in a deep sort of way.


You can choose to believe that all life is special

That all of existence is the true miracle.

Worthy of awe and taking good care.

For the planet we love will run out of fresh air

If we fail to see, the truth that our world.

Is a gift … that we can break without care.


So next time you see a tree in the park

or hear the leaves rustling, while camping in the dark.

Just remember that those trees might be just like you

The descendents of a hero, that deserve his due

For doing that which so many find hard

Looking past petty wants to find meaning in giving

Service to others ... making your life worth living.



In loving memory of John Wittrig ... my grandfather (Popow)


By Joseph McPhail



About John Wittrig (Popow)


John Wittrig passed away on January 9, 2021 at the age of 90 at his home in Winfield, Iowa. John...or as I have always called him, Popow, is my grandfather. He was like a father to me. This is my tribute to him and all the gifts he has given to my life and the world.


My grandparents, Momow (Betty) and Popow, took care of me in Iowa during much of my childhood. I attended Iowa State University, as Popow did before me. My grandparents were a big reason why my wife took a chance on a "Tree Guy" ... my nickname in college after starting a business helping Iowa's follow in my grandfather's footsteps.

Popow taught me many of the principles that I try to live by...such as how to live simply and love my planet. He taught me how to work hard on our tree farm...where he gave the last decades of his life.

After he retired in the late 1980s he chose to dedicate himself to helping save our planet. Before just about anyone had ever heard of global warming ... he started planting trees to sequester carbon and do far more than his part to help stem the tide of climate change.

Dr John Wittrig was an outspoken advocate for protecting our soil...teaming with other farmers and environmental activists across Iowa to teach them how to build wetlands and practice sustainable agriculture. He showed how other farmers could profitably raise organic chestnuts.

Popow employed many people in his community and paid them above market wages to help bring J&B Chestnuts to market. This was a continuation of his life's work serving the Union while employed in the service of the US government. He believed strongly in protecting the rights of labor and giving all people the opportunity to succeed.

Popow was a true visionary ... and his contributions to our small planet are just a taste of what he gave to his family, friends, and global community.

Sincerely, Joe (Tree Guy)











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