It was 1974 when Tom Litzinger painted the cougar on the center of the floor and on the wall of the Medical Lake Middle School gym. Forty years later those paintings are still in the gym.
During the middle school’s promotion ceremony, the district honored Litzinger for his contribution to the school.
When he was a teenager, Litzinger started painting as a hobby. After he finished school, he had trouble finding work and started painting professionally.
Over the years, he sold paintings at different art shows throughout the country. Most of Litzinger’s work focuses on western art, scenery and wildlife. He is also a fan of Charles Marion Russell.
Litzinger said he enjoys painting wildlife because it relates to his time in survival training.
“Survival training is in the field and you see everything in nature,” Litzinger said. “Wildlife has always been one of my loves.”
Litzinger went into the service in June 1945. He served in the Navy and then spent 25 years in survival training. During that time, he built three survival museums at Fairchild Air Force Base, Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks Alaska. and at Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nev. Litzinger said the museums coincided with the training and most of the exhibits in the museums are comprised of artwork.
After he retired from the service, Litzinger moved to Medical Lake and attended college at Eastern Washington State College, now Eastern Washington University. He graduated with a bachelors degree in art in 1976 and earned a masters degree in American Frontier History two years later.
All eight of his children attended both Medical Lake middle and high schools. His grandchildren are attending both schools.
In an email, Medical Lake Middle School principal Sylvia Campbell said the school decided to honor Litzinger because of the beauty and class the paintings gave to the school, as well as his service in the military.
“Years and years of middle school students have looked at his paintings in the gym,” Campbell said. “The cougar in center court is something we all have admired and is such a central part of our school.”
In addition to painting the cougars for the middle school, Litzinger created a couple of pictures for St. Anne’s Catholic Church.
In his later years Litzinger developed glaucoma. While doctors were able to stabilize the condition, he decided to quit painting. He said he misses it.
For Litzinger, the presentation at the middle school was a complete surprise. Although he was embarrassed, he appreciated the gesture.
Litzinger’s daughter, Fran Litzinger was at the ceremony. She said that her father had no idea the school was going to honor his work and service.
“He was tickled and thankful,” Fran Litzinger said. “He did not expect it. When they started talking, he had tears in his eyes.”
Litzinger said one of his daughters put herself through school by painting and currently works for a large company.
“I also have a couple of grandkids who are interested in art,” Litzinger said. “They have a lot of talent.”
Al Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.