Whittenberger had achieved prominence at IU by being the founder and the first president of the Indiana Memorial Union — arguably now one of the greatest campus gathering places in the world, with more than 500,000 square feet.
A memorial published in the 1911 IU yearbook, Arbutus, says, “… the Union which he founded … was his organization, but he gathered about him the most influential men in the University.”
Whittenberger was a Big Man on Campus. He was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity and played football.
An editorial in the Indiana Daily Student after his death said, “Probably no other undergrad has left such a legacy at IU.”
Whittenberger returned to Peru to teach at Central Elementary School. In those days, the faculty elected the principal, and Whittenberger had been chosen before his death. He appeared to be a natural choice.
But he had gotten caught up in an outbreak of typhoid fever while he was taking a summer course at IU in 1910.
A Delta Upsilon website page that spotlights Whittenberger, says:
“[T]wenty students were stricken. This was an era when restaurant customers had to use privies and public drinking cups were common. We can be thankful our public health has improved greatly since then.
“Many members of Delta Upsilon have served on the Union Board that Whittenberger founded. … In 1980, this alumni group was formalized as the John Whittenberger Society.”
The Peru Republican obit contains this sentence:
“In his teaching in the Peru public schools Mr. Whittenberger won the hearts of his pupils by a kind and patient interest and he was classed one of the best teachers Peru pupils have ever had the good fortune to know.”
One of the hearts Whittenberger won belonged to G. David Thompson, who later described himself as a “hooligan” in his early years.
In their brief time together, Whittenberger straightened Thompson out. Thompson never forgot.