I. Whitekettle, radio singer, phone operator

April 02, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Inez L. Wantz Wehrenberg Whitekettle, who worked 32 years as a telephone operator and was a vocalist on Baltimore radio in the early 1920s, died Monday of pneumonia in Chicago. She was 96.

The former Pikesville resident who three years ago moved to Chicago, where her son lives, began working in 1912 for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.

She was an operator at the Wolfe and St. Paul exchanges until leaving in 1924 to rear a family. She resumed her career in 1933, as a plug board operator and was later chief operator at the Madison, Liberty, Forest and Pikesville exchanges until dial phones made them obsolete and she retired in 1953.

Her son, Fred Wehrenberg, said she and his father chose to be married in Alexandria, Va., in 1922 because "in those days, the phone company would only hire single ladies for operators, and they were afraid that their name would appear in the Baltimore newspapers, and she'd be fired."

An alto, she sang professionally and was the lead vocalist of the Lani Kuhns' Hawaiian Orchestra during the 1920s and 1930s. The band performed regularly in the ballroom of the Southern Hotel on Light Street and at area college dances. The orchestra was featured in broadcasts over WFBR Radio.

Born in Gist, in Carroll County, she moved to Baltimore as a teen-ager and left school to help support her family. During World War II, she volunteered with the Red Cross rolling bandages.

In 1922, she and John Henry Wehrenberg, an Internal Revenue Service claims adjuster, were married. He died in 1961. Then, in 1969, she and Howard C. Whitekettle, a retired Chesapeake and Ohio Railway employee, were married. He died in 1979.

She enjoyed painting birds and wildlife scenes under the name of "Poncie."

She was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, the Westminster Civinette Club and the Telephone Pioneers of America.

Services were conducted yesterday in Randallstown.

In addition to her son, survivors include a sister, Charlotte Wehrenberg of Sykesville; a stepson, Howard C. Whitekettle Jr. of Ruxton; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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