|101-year-old Philo Pritzkau, with his
family, from left, Bob MacLachlan, Emily Charest, Jamie MacLachlan
and Patricia MacLachlan. Photo by Jerrey Roberts.
Philo Turns 101
Germano, Michelle. "Philo Turns 101."Daily Hampshire Gazette, 17 March 2003.
Note: Philo T. Pritzkau is author of the book, Growing
Up in North Dakota: A Memoir, published by the Germans from
Russia Heritage Collection in 1996. The Pritzkaus immigrated from
the former German village of Kassel, Glueckstal District, Russia
(today north of Odessa, Ukraine).
Monday, March 17, 2003 -- NORTHAMPTON - After 101 years, Philo
T. Pritzkau has lived long enough to be many things to many people.
To his daughter, Patricia MacLachlan, an award-winning author who
lives in Williamsburg, he's the one who awakened her interest in
To the people of the North Dakota State Library who published his
memoir, Pritzkau is the man who wrote an intriguing tale of his
own - about growing up in a sod house in Napoleon, N.D. [Note: Philo
Pritzkau was born in a sodhouse in a farmstead near Burnstad, North
Dakota, south of Napoleon, Logan County, North Dakota.]
To decades of education students at the University of Connecticut,
he was the mentor who kept in touch, encouraging them all through
And to a friendly group from the Florence Congregational Church,
he is a regular at Sunday brunches at a Northampton restaurant,
exhibiting a great sense of humor and a vibrant personality.
On Sunday, Pritzkau was the guest of honor at his daughter's home,
where family and friends saluted the milestone he reached today:
turning 101 years old.
When asked for the secret to his longevity, Pritzkau first joked
that he owes his age to years of just sitting in a chair, looking
Then he added, in a more serious tone, "I just never think
of anything but living."
A farm childhood
If he's been feeling reflective lately, he must turn his thoughts
The son of German-Russian immigrants, he was born in 1902 and spent
his childhood haying, harvesting and threshing to help his family
eke out a living in the town of Napoleon.
"The population was under 200, and we could see from one end
of the town to the other. Nevertheless, we considered it a lively
place," Pritzkau wrote in his book, "Growing Up in North
Dakota," adding, "The butcher shop was a great socializing
Like other children who attended his one-room school, Pritzkau
spoke German, with English as his second language. Later, he was
the only one of his nine siblings to attend college. He went to
the University of North Dakota for one semester, then ran out of
To earn more, he secured a teaching job at a country school, where
teachers were in short supply. There he discovered a love for teaching
that eventually led him to earn a doctorate in education from Columbia
An offer to teach at UConn brought him to Mansfield, Conn., where
he lived for the 30 years he taught education at the university.
He remembers Connecticut as "a funny state with a lot of little
crazy towns. We had one general store and a post office in our town.
The man who owned the store would bring groceries to our home and
even put them in our refrigerator."
Before he retired in 1972, Pritzkau touched the lives of many he
Alexina Baldwin, one of those students, remembers the times Pritzkau
held classes around the dining table of his home, where students
were treated to dinners cooked by his wife, Madonna.
"He felt that each individual needed to be a whole person
and care for others and subsequently care for children," said
Baldwin, who is herself now a professor of education at UConn.
MacLachlan remembers waking up in what she thought was the middle
of the night and seeing her father engaged in discussions with his
students. "I thought that's the way it was everywhere. It was
a very exciting environment to grow up in," she said.
Friends say Pritzkau never lost his connection with UConn. He said
he phones and writes former students, corresponding with "whoever
will stay in contact."
"He watches every UConn women's basketball game and has a
signed poster given to him from the coach," his daughter said.
Instilling a love
MacLachlan said she inherited a love for teaching and young people
from her father. She remembers he read constantly to her during
her youth, acting out "Peter Rabbit" a hundred times a
day, if she asked.
MacLachlan went on to write the 1986 Newbery Award-winning novel
"Sarah Plain and Tall," as well as many other works.
Eventually, MacLachlan married her husband, Bob, and moved to Leeds,
a neighborhood of Northampton. In 1984, her parents followed in
order to be closer, she said, and so her father could have help
caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer's disease. She died at the
age of 88 in 1994.
"My father was a very loving husband, very tolerant and very
patient. He was very good to my mother," said MacLachlan.
She recalls her father talking about the pain he felt having to
put his wife in a nursing home. "He once said to me, 'She deserves
better than what I can give her at home."
Today, Pritzkau lives in Leeds by himself, receiving help from
family members and a closeknit group of friends.
His loved ones, he says, "are people I call every day. They
mean a lot to me."
Pritzkau jokes about having "several" women in his life.
They include Melodie Tewhill, who helps him tidy up his home. Claire
Byrom assists with bills and Kitty Allman takes him shopping and
out to lunch.
"His friends keep him very independent," MacLachlan said,
adding with a laugh: "He has a better social life than I do."
Other good friends include John Ward of Florence, whom he met when
they once shared a room at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and Sue
Stanley started giving Pritzkau rides to their church, Florence
Congregational, after he stopped driving.
Stanley recalls the first time she drove Pritzkau home. "I
had to stop by a nursing home to deliver flowers. It turned out
that the flowers were being delivered to his wife," she said.
Stanley, Ward and Pritzkau now follow their church visits with
brunch at Bickford's Family Restaurant on North King Street. His
favorite meal, there or anywhere, is broiled haddock, butternut
squash, mashed potatoes with gravy (on the side) and plain tea.
He has to watch what he eats and drinks because of a minor heart
condition he's had for 50 years. He is an energetic and regular
Friends say Pritzkau is a pleasure to be around. "He is very
upbeat and never negative," Ward said. "His friends keep
"He is a joy and inspiration to a lot of people. He is very
knowledgeable - and very humble," Stanley said.
Next Sunday, Florence Congregational will prepare a cake in Pritzkau's
honor. People there will also intentionally annoy him with a rendition
of "How Great Thou Art," one of Pritzkau's favorite songs,
as performed by a handbell choir, perhaps his least favorite type
The Rev. Dewey Gierke of the church said Pritzkau has indirectly
influenced how things are done at the church.
"He is not dramatic, not flashy," said Gierke, in a remark
that might please generations of North Dakotans. "He just has
a wonderful character and he has always been one to contribute to
conversations in an intellectual, intelligent way."
|Donna Pritzkau Turner with Uncle Philo
Pritzkau opening birthday cards
(left to right):
LaVerne Pritzkau Calverly, Donna Pritzkau Turner, Uncle Philo
Pritzkau, James Pritzkau, and Richard Pritzkau.
visiting with Uncle Philo Pritzkau at his home.
Reprinted with permission of Daily Hampshire Gazette.