In celebration of Dad’s 80th birthday, I thought it appropriate to share some of the times in his life when others felt him newsworthy, so in no particular order…
DAD, in the NEWS:
Ottumwa Courier, Tuesday, March 5, 1974
Page 6, Section C
Commuting Teacher Likes Time to Think
By Terry Herson, Courier Staff Writer
Ray Prentis, school teacher, headed for work April 9, 1973, after shoveling half a winter’s worth of snow out of his driveway.
It was supposed to be spring, almost. Major league baseball’s season was to start the next day at points around the country and yet two hours after departure, Prentis had traveled early from his home at 122 Lynwood to the Ottumwa John Deere plant.
The situation was hopeless. Prentis, you see, hadn’t made a dent in his daily 30-mile journey to Van Buren High School in Keosauqua.
That was the only day Prentis never made it to school. Thanks to this, school officials in Keosauqua probably didn’t doubt his word although the horrendous surprise blizzard had dropped scarcely a flake from Douds eastward.
That’s not to say the 43-year-old Prentis has been at the chalkboard for years on end. His school teaching career did not begin until 1960 when, at the age of 37, he graduated from Northwest Missouri State and signed on to teach government at Cardinal High.
Cardinal? Van Buren? Don’t look for an Ottumwa teaching connection; Prentis hasn’t ever had it so good driving-wise. His log of miles to work, in fact, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 65,000 miles in 5-1/2 years at four different schools.
After two years at Cardinal, Prentis spent two more at Pekin before taking a job at Van Buren last year. From a 26-mile round trip to Cardinal to a 60-mile swing to and from Pekin to a 100-mile journey to make the rounds to Van Buren.
It had to stop before Ray was commuting to another state. So, to save wear and tear on his compact, Prentis took a job at Davis County in Bloomfield this year.
“I’ve never really minded commuting,” Prentis says. “The expense got to be a little too much last year (to Van Buren), though.
“It gives me some extra time to think through my plans for the day.”
The unusual distance Prentis drives is not all that sets the friendly Mount Ayr native off from the crowd. All his life Ray has been trying new things, “just because I always wanted to try them.”
After less than two years in college, he entered the service during the Korean War. After a four-year hitch, during which he married his hometown sweetheart, the former Patricia Main, Prentis launched into a variety of careers that eventually brought him to Ottumwa in 1960 as a rookie restauranteur.
During a six-year span, Prentis operated three different cafes, sometimes two at a time, while additionally running a catering service.
“I also sold insurance and worked selling wholesale hardware at various times,” Prentis recalls. “I don’t think I ever did anything I didn’t enjoy. I just have always wanted to try a lot of different things. I’ve always liked to keep busy. It’s interesting to see how different things relate to the general scheme of things.”
His teaching career has been equally unique. Prentis had seen college wrestling as a freshman in 1949 at Iowa State Teachers College (now UNI), but didn’t see his first high school meet until he set in the coach’s chair for Cardinal in his initial year of teaching.
“I hadn’t been exactly set on coaching, but it went with the job and I had a physical education minor,” says Prentis. “It grew on me real fast.”
For a coach perhaps newer to wrestling than some of his charges, Prentis didn’t do too badly. In his second year at Cardinal, the Comets won the Blackhawk Conference title.
An assistant wrestling coach at Pekin, Prentis was head coach at Van Buren and presently heads the mat program at Davis County.
“The sport demands a lot of self-discipline, and that’s extremely important to kids,” says Prentis, who also says, “I like the individuality in kids today and I try to be fairly liberal in accepting the ongoing changes in young people.”
The only aspect of his diversified background of occupations that is easily explained is Ray’s classroom specialty: government. His father, X.T. Prentis, was a Republican Iowa legislator for 22 years.
Ray, naturally, is a Democrat. It goes with the story.
He won’t bore you with politics, but the political inclinations of a man who courageously gave up the restaurant business for the less stable life as collegian, must have been given heavy consideration.
“When I was running a restaurant, I’d leave for work before the kids (Tim, now 19, and Julie, 15) were up and get home sometimes after they had gone to bed,” says Prentis. “I had to find something less hectic, and so I decided to finish college where I’d left off 17 years before.”
Although the busy commuting schedule hardly seems less than hectic, Prentis is not complaining. Teachers have summers to recuperate.
Prentis, for example, found his change of pace last summer working for a Cedar Rapids firm. His job was, believe it or not, a summer’s log of 35,000 miles as a long-haul semi-truck driver.
“I always wanted to do that,” Prentis explains.
They Like it Here
Des Moines Register — (About 1940; Most stories of other legislators’ children removed) From Mount Ayr. … Over in the adjoining buildings which comprise Warren Harding Junior High school and Saylor elementary school are Jeanne [sic] Prentis, 14, and her brother, Raymond, 10, children of X.T. Prentis, representative from Mount Ayr, Ia. Raymond thinks the schools are “O.K.” but Jeanne misses her friends. “I suppose I’ll like it better when I get to know more people,” she said. …
Note: Jean was known as Jeannie, but never Jeanne, as called in the article. Dad later joked to his children that if he’d known they were going to quote him, he wishes he’d been a more eloquent 10-year-old. — he said he was also probably the one quoted anonymously about the old teachers, or at least shared the same sentiment.
Navy Mail Clerk
Raymond E. Prentis, mail clerk at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, was recently promoted to the rate of Teleman Second Class. This information was received this week by his parents, Senator and Mrs. X.T. Prentis, of Mount Ayr, in a letter from Lt. E.A. Taylor, Director Communications Department. Contents of the letter are as follows: “It is my pleasure to inform you of your son’s advancement to the rate of Teleman Second Class, U.S. Navy, while serving at this command. Ray has shown in himself the desire to advance and through personal initiative has proved his reliability. His promotion to petty officer second class is the navy’s way of recognizing his ability, skill and knowledge. I know you are proud of your son, just as we are proud of all the men in the naval service and particularly those who have shown themselves to be above average. As he has no doubt told you, advancement to a higher petty officer status is a worthwhile achievement in the navy and carries with it additional responsibilities as well as privileges and more pay. He will be called upon to supervise larger groups of lower rated men, directing their work and assuring a smooth and continuous flow of work from his department. This contributes materially to the efficient operation of this command and of the navy as a whole. Ray has proved himself dependable and capable of fulfilling these responsibilities and I am confident he will continue to do the excellent work which he has done in the past. I would like to add here my personal congratulations. You have a fine son and he is doing a splendid job.
Note: Dad went on to become head postmaster in charge of the Naval Post Office at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
New careers for couple
Ottumwa Courier (about 1977) — After trying out careers in restauranting and teaching, Ray and Patricia Prentis of 122 Lynwood are about to embark on a new career: truck driving. Mrs. Prentis is one of 26 persons who graduated this fall from the five-week, semi-trailer truck-driving school at Indian Hills Community College. Prentis completed the same course in 1973 and has since worked as an over-the-road driver during summer vacations. The two formerly operated Town House Restaurant, South Ottumwa Cafe and Town Talk Grill. He went back to school and received his bachelor’s degree in 1968, started teaching at Cardinal, earned his master’s degree in history and now teaches government and coaches wrestling at Davis County High School in Bloomfield. Mrs. Prentis is now a doctor’s receptionist. Both will quit their jobs when they get a new Kenworth later this year. “It’s going to be good to see the country,” she said, “and we hope to make some money while doing it.” The truck will have power steering and a fully adjustable driver’s seat — a necessity because she is only 5-feet-2 and weighs just 98 pounds. …
Note: The South Ottumwa Cafe was called The Lighthouse when my parents were its owners.
Of course, his family has ALWAYS felt him newsworthy! Happy birthday, Dad, and many more to come! We love you!