Sunday morning, the longest-tenured member of our WIBW-TV family lost his battle with cancer.
Engineer Elmer Gunderson was 81-years-old.
He has been part of WIBW-TV almost since the beginning. He would have marked 58 years on the job as we turn 60 this fall. He saw a lot of changes over the years, and touched a lot of lives.
Almost two years to the day after WIBW-TV went on the air Elmer Gunderson walked through the doors, and never left.
"A couple years after I started, I got an offer for another job. But, going to school, I thought I'll just stay. And I stayed and I stayed," Elmer said in a 2005 interview.
His first day on the job was November 9th, 1955. Just out of the Navy, Elmer was looking for a radio engineering job to earn money for school. When WIBW Radio had no openings, they sent him to WIBW-TV.
Elmer recalled the conversation in 2004, before his induction into the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
"He asked if I had any experience in television," Elmer said. "I said no. He said do you want to learn? And I said that would be all right."
Elmer never stopped learning. His career spanned tubes to digital, black and white to color, cables to fiber lines. Former News Director Jim Hollis and former station manager, the late Jerry Holly, marveled at Elmer's knowledge in his hall of fame tribute.
"He knows all this stuff," Hollis said.
"He's forgotten more than most people ever learned and he's proven it over and over," Jerry Holly said in an interview years ago.
Elmer was known for his ingenuity. When the station began broadcasting horse races from Ruidoso, New Mexico, Elmer and his fellow engineers found a spot for the dish to send out the signal- on a mountainside, behind the trailer home of a man who let them plug into his outlet.
When the phone company wanted to charge $50,000 to relay a signal for televised Landon Lectures from K-State Elmer and the crew found another option.
"They came up with the idea of putting a bus in the middle of a field in the Flint Hills and then it would relay the signal from Manhattan to there, to the station," Hollis said.
The mid 1980s brought remote satellite technology to Topeka with Elmer at the wheel. He logged more than 200,000 miles in the station's satellite truck. From the Miss America Pageant in New Jersey, to San Diego and New Orleans for Super Bowls. He traveled to Wyoming, Georgia, Iowa, Colorado, Arizona -- even 2008's National Championship Game in San Antonio.
But Elmer would never say those accomplishments were about him. He was most proud of those he's worked alongside -- Gorden Jump, Max Falkensten, Bill Kurtis to name a few.
"To see that a station of this size has furthered people in their careers, it's good to see them go on and do well," Elmer said.
Elmer was on the job right up until early April, when, at the age of 81, he was hospitalized with health problems.
Elmer never married. He is survived by the many members of his WIBW-TV and broadcast family, who he taught to enjoy each and every moment.
"It's fun, and that's why I'm staying," Elmer said. "It's fun."
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