Steve Uttech was born with a hearing impairment and couldn’t make out people’s voices, but he could read lips and sing along with others.
But when it came to “Happy Birthday,” he purposely bellowed the tune off key and out of sync with everyone else, said his daughter Karrie Uttech. It became a tradition that made everyone laugh.
“We talk about how boring our family events are going to be now. Somebody is going to have to step up,” she said. “He was always very funny.”
Uttech, 69, of Watertown, died from COVID-19 on Oct. 25. He had no underlying medical conditions, his daughter said.
Unable to hear except for some low-register sounds, Uttech went to a school for the deaf as a child but graduated from Watertown High School in 1969. He worked for Watertown Metals, later known as Western Industries, for 44 years — most recently in quality control — before retiring several years ago, his daughter said.
When Karrie Uttech and her brother and sister were growing up, their father made it clear he didn’t want them to learn American Sign Language, even though he used it with deaf friends.
“Dad wanted us to talk to him by him reading our lips,” she said. “That was very important to him.”
He knew all the words to “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and could sing it on key. “For someone not being able to hear, it was pretty amazing,” Karrie Uttech said.
During retirement, he enjoyed catching up with friends in Watertown and elsewhere he hadn’t seen for years. “He was a true social butterfly,” she said.
He became ill in late September, testing positive for the coronavirus and developing pneumonia. On Oct. 3, he was admitted to ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, where he was put on a ventilator until he died.
At his memorial service this month, Karrie Uttech recalled how her dad would sneak up on loved ones and tickle them.
“He often drove me crazy, but what I wouldn’t give for that now,” she said.