In Memoriam - Dr. John E. Rittmann (Class of 1954)

Dr. John E. Rittmann, age 83, of Watertown, SD, passed away Sunday, November 22, 2020, at Prairie Lakes Hospital in Watertown due to complications from a Covid-19 infection.

John was born September 29, 1937 in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, India, the son of the Rev. Clarence and Emma (Scheidt) Rittmann who were missionaries. He spent his childhood in south India, living in Vadakkankulam, attending Kodai International School where he graduated in 1954. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University, Indiana in 1958 and continued his education at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis where he received his medical degree in 1962.

While in St Louis attending medical school, he met his future wife Lorraine (Helgaas) at of all places a missionary meeting, and they were married April 16, 1960. Their son David was born in 1961. After an internship at the Cleveland General Hospital, he accepted a commission with the Public Health Service and served on the Pine Ridge Reservation until 1965. His drive to be in service to others was deep. After Pine Ridge the young family traveled to Kerala, India where he worked as a medical missionary in a rural hospital. After returning to the States in 1971, he completed a medical residency program in Family Practice medicine at Hennepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis. Upon completion two years later, 1973, he accepted a position at the Brown Clinic in Watertown. The couple's daughter, Renee, was born later that year.

Though he remained a resident of Watertown for the rest of his life, he continued to share his medical skill and service with others, traveling to India four more times along with Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh. He shared his medical knowledge as a faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine at USD School of Medicine and by teaching anatomy at the Lake Area Vocational Technical Institute. Among the awards he received was the Young at Heart Award from the South Dakota Medical Association, designed to recognize those individuals that have excelled in acting as a role model and inspiring young physicians to pursue the practice of medicine. While in Watertown, he welcomed students from Norway and Japan into the family home and assisted a Vietnamese refugee family who moved to the area.

John worked at Brown Clinic until retiring at age 70. He was dedicated to his patients and known for his attention to detail, taking whatever time was needed to serve his patients. It was common knowledge that John Rittmann time did not follow the clock. Many patients experienced this, but they also knew that the wait was worth it. Extended family would jokingly say John was going to be late to his own funeral.

Though his early years were consumed by the practice of medicine, he enjoyed several hobbies later in life. Perhaps his first was sailing on Lake Kampeska.  He also developed an interest in conservation and grassland preservation. His retirement passion was raising fowl, from chickens to guinea hens, and finally racing pigeons, spending hours in the loft and waiting with other members of Lake City Racing Pigeons Racing Club for that first bird to arrive home. Though John lived his last year at Jenkins Living Center, he was continually planning for the next pigeon racing season.

John was active at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church serving as an elder and Sunday School superintendent among other roles. There were many organizations dear to his heart throughout the years that were connected to the mission field in India and the mission field in the United States.

John is survived by his wife Lorraine of 60 years; two children: David (Suzanne) Mills-Rittmann of Burnsville, MN and Renee (Eric) Merten of Ellensburg, WA; six grandchildren: Megan (Zach), Eric, Michael, Emma, Kathryn and Sarah; his sisters Lydia and Clara and brother Joseph (Marty). He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Dorothy.

A memorial service will be planned in the future when it is safe for his family and friends to gather and celebrate his life. Condolences can be sent to Lorraine Rittmann at Jenkins Living Center, 215 S Maple, Watertown, SD 57201. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family is asking that any memorials be directed to the Alzheimer's Foundation South Dakota Chapter at 4304 S Technology Dr, Sioux Falls, SD 57106 ( or the Watertown Area Community Foundation (