On October 3, 1923, in the alpine town of St. Moritz, Switzerland, Eric Emil Bittmann was born to parents, Emil and Claire Bittmann (Hahn). With his older brother, Helmut, Eric enjoyed skiing, fishing and biking in the beautiful mountain valleys of the Engadin. His parents owned a jewelry store, but instead of joining the business, Eric rode his bike over 20 miles day from St. Moritz to Zuoz to attend a private academy to prepare for college.
During WWII, Switzerland was cut off from the rest of Europe, leading to food shortages and economic challenges. Eric remembered what it was like to be hungry and never took prosperity or his health for granted.
As WWII was ending, Eric attended the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Institute in Technology) in Zurich to study electronical engineering. He recounted that there were no textbooks to study, only lectures and the notes he took. During his college years, he went on a blind date and met the outdoor-loving city girl, Ruth Bosshard, to whom he later proposed.
After graduation, there were few jobs in his field in Switzerland. Eric told the story as “I had a guardian angel all the time” to open pathways to getting the required sponsorship and visa to come to the United States in 1948 “with 2 suitcases and $200.” Through Swiss friends, he was able to find a job at the electronics firm, Philco (making televisions at that time) and a place to live in Philadelphia. After a year, Ruth joined him and they were married on June 18, 1949.
Eric treasured the freedom and opportunities in the U.S., and instead of returning to Switzerland after several years, as most of his friends did, he embraced American life with Ruth. They had 3 children, Helen, Judy, and Heidi and purchased a home with “towering trees” in Lionville in 1956. Eric continued to work in electronics; he worked at Burroughs Corporation in Paoli, Pa for about 30 years. He was a frontier developer of computer memory systems, working on projects with NASA and the Postal Service. At the same time, he was active in his community, holding positions on the School Authority for Downingtown Area School District and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Council for many years.
As Eric’s children grew up, he and Ruth became fascinated with orchid growing. They began collecting plants and joined local orchid societies. Eric became such an expert that he was a judge at several orchid society exhibitions. In 1978, as Eric took early retirement, he started a second career as he and Ruth opened Bittmann’s Orchids, a full-service florist business which they ran with Heidi, until 2014. Eric was the lead graphic designer, accountant, photographer, installer and delivery man.
Eric was an avid recycler and nature lover well before Earth Day. He repaired and repurposed televisions, appliances and building materials, always striving to save and be cleverly practical. He generously fed birds, fish in the fish pond (and deer) all year long. Perhaps it was from the lean war years, but Eric’s favorite meal was having meat which he roasted outdoors on a well-stoked wood fire. He and Ruth also enjoyed a succession of well-loved dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers. Eric would have made an excellent professor; he had a knack of explaining difficult math and physics concepts and loved to discuss current issues. His favorite advice to his children when leaving home, spoken in German (learned from his father) was, “Get to the bathroom? Have money? Have a handkerchief?”
Ruth, his adoring wife of 70 years, died February 12, 2020. Eric is also preceded in death by his parents, brother, Helmut and son-in law, Richard Dlugosz. He is survived by daughters Helen Sysko (John), Judy Dlugosz, Heidi Bittmann (Jean Ahrensfield), grandchildren, Laura Davis (Michael) and Peter Sysko and three great grandchildren, Liliane Sysko, Lia and Sadie Davis, his nieces and their families in Switzerland, Maja Bosshard, Dani Egli-Bosshard, Caty Bosshard, and Liselotte Goepel-Bosshard and cousins in Germany from the Fischer and Hahn families.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, it is requested that you enjoy going outdoors and celebrate living in a free country.