Elmhurst College In Depth

A Breed Apart

Andrew K. Prinz (1936-2009) was one of those professors everyone wishes they could have in college. His students and colleagues remember Elmhurst’s urban legend.

Professor Andrew Karl Prinz turned the world’s cities into his classroom. Through 36 years as director of the urban studies program at Elmhurst, his pedagogical approach involved not just reading about cities but also diving into them. He led his students onto the streets of the great metropolises—London and Moscow and Beijing and Toronto and, always, Chicago. He introduced them to mayors and city planners and transit officials and the ordinary people he encountered waiting for trains. Those extraordinary trips are part of the legacy of Andy Prinz, who died on March 26 after a long illness. Whenever his former students gather, stories of those trips flow; but so do stories of his rapid-fire classroom teaching style, and of the seemingly endless number of city people he knew around the world, and, most of all, of his plain decency and concern for others. We asked a few of his former students and colleagues to share their memories of a master teacher and urban legend.

Taking the Time for People
Barrett Pedersen ’85: He was more than a teacher. He took a phenomenal interest in each of his students personally. He touched so many lives.

Gina Prochaska ’88: He inspired students to open their eyes to the world around them, to get beyond the boundaries of their world. So many of his students had never really seen very much of the world. He taught us how much there was to learn out there.

Gloria Simo ’88: He cared about us, not just our academic work. He became part of our lives.

John Bohnert, Director of the School for Advanced Learning and former Dean of the College: He took the time to know his students. It was striking. Adult students especially loved him because he understood the demands of their lives.

Prochaska: I’d been away from school for ten years and had three children when I met Dr. Prinz. One of the reasons he and I hit it off was that he understood that adult students had to juggle study, work, and running a household. He went
out of his way to help us. It’s amazing the impact he had on us.

Missy (Grice) Gillis ’90: I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I was an anxious young freshman when
I took my first class with him. Finding him made all the difference for me. He was so encouraging. He had a knack for making every person he met feel special.

Making Converts
Andy Prinz came to Elmhurst in 1969 to establish an urban studies program. It would be a multidisciplinary program, and so Prinz worked to win the confidence of faculty from across the campus—and earn the interest of students.

Bohnert: For a time there Andy really had to prove himself, to show that he and urban studies actually belonged at Elmhurst College. People had to be persuaded, and he persuaded them. He created student interest very quickly.

Rita Athas ’76: I was one of his many converts. I began as a political science major, but Andy convinced me that my life just wouldn’t be the same unless I took urban studies as a second major. He was able to persuade me because he was so passionate about the subject himself. You picked that up from him, and it made you passionate about it, too.

Gillis: He was always pointing out to you that if you took these classes, you could have a minor in urban studies; but if you took these additional classes you’d have a second major. I just kept taking his classes. He was such a quick-witted, larger-than-life teacher.

Rudy Gruenke ’03: He was the reason I ended up attending Elmhurst. I was visiting campus with my mother during my senior year in high school, and I was still on the fence about whether this was the school for me. We were coming out of Goebel Hall, and along came Andy Prinz. He asked if he could help us, if we had any questions he could answer. Then he gave us his card and told us to call anytime, to talk about colleges or majors or whatever. He didn’t give us a sales pitch; he just offered his help. It was his personal touch that sold me on Elmhurst.

 “He Had No Fear”
 “Give me fifteen people,” Prinz liked to say, “and I’ll go anywhere in the world.” Indeed, his legendary travel courses took students around the globe. They explored Beijing when the sight of Western visitors on the streets was still rare, and they got to see how Communist-era Moscow worked—or failed to work. They went to New Orleans and Toronto so many times that both cities made him an honorary citizen.

Pedersen: Those trips were always exciting. I went with him to Montreal and Toronto; others went to Helsinki or London. The amazing thing was, everyone in those cities seemed to know him. We’d talk to the mayor and the chief of staff and the aldermen. They’d stop by our hotel and go to dinner with us.

Prochaska: I don’t know how he did it. He had tremendous contacts. When we went to New Orleans, we sat with the mayor and talked about the problems of running a big city. Andy got us into the behind-the-scenes places that ordinary travelers never get to see. When we returned, we wrote papers. After New Orleans, I wrote on the rules of historic preservation and how they affect homeowners.

Bohnert: Traveling with Andy was an intense, concentrated experience. Students never went blindly. They read and studied their destinations. They prepared to meet people at the highest levels of city government and urban affairs. They were exposed to the leading edge of urban life.

Simo: You had to keep up with him. He was such a dynamo. He could walk faster than anybody. I’ll never forget one of
his walking tours of Chicago. It was about 107 degrees out and Andy was already about three blocks ahead of me. I thought, I’m just going to sit here and wait for him to come back around.

Gruenke: A lot of his students came to college thinking of cities as dangerous places. He changed that perception for a lot of people.

Prochaska: He told me he’d like to do more travel courses, but many students didn’t have the necessary funds. He said his dream was to set up scholarships for student travel. That stuck with me. Later, when I had the means to do it, I let the College know that I wanted to establish such a scholarship. One of his few requirements was that any student who used the funds had to write me a letter and tell me where they’d gone, what they’d done, and what they’d learned. I got letters from students for years afterwards.

Simo: He would talk to anybody. One time, I was working for him, transcribing taped notes he brought back from a trip to Moscow. One part had me laughing my head off. He was riding a train and talking to people, trying to interview them, even though he couldn’t speak Russian and they couldn’t speak English. There was a lot of Nyet! Nyet! on that tape. He found someone on the train to translate for him and the next thing you knew, he was being invited with a couple of students to someone’s house for dinner. They got to see a bit of ordinary life in Moscow. That was something we learned from him: he had no fear.

The Ceremony of the Pen
One of the professor’s trademarks was the souvenir Elmhurst College pen he bestowed on students, mayors, or any of the many people he befriended on his trips around the world. His students began to refer to the presentation as the Ceremony of the Pen.

Gillis: He gave those pens to everyone he met, whether it was the mayor of a big city or a person serving his table at a restaurant. When we went to Toronto we met the mayor, who made a proclamation declaring it Elmhurst College Day in Toronto. He presented Dr. Prinz with a key to the city. Dr. Prinz presented the mayor with one of his pens.

Bohnert: He never went anywhere without those pens.

Gruenke: Toward the end of the Spring Term, all of us would go to the Silverado restaurant and celebrate the end of the year. It was a tradition. Dr. Prinz would give every graduating senior a pen. I still have mine. It was almost as good as getting a degree.

The Practical Politician
Andy Prinz didn’t only teach about urban affairs and politics. He once worked as an aide to a Chicago alderman, and in 1973 he won a term as the Democratic Party Committeeman for Oak Park. “I know what it means to serve a constituent,” he said of his real-world experience.

Bohnert: He was very involved in the practical side of things. He understood getting out and working in a political campaign. That was something that was alien to a lot of academics, but Andy believed in getting involved. For him, it was the democratic thing, the American thing to do. It was the way to learn how the system worked.

Athas: He taught from his own experience and that helped us see the city anew. When you study with someone that knowledgeable, you begin to see the city in a new light, to see it in depth.

Dave Bennett, Executive Director, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus: He offered the best of both worlds, the academic and the practical. He unveiled both worlds for his students and they got to know both through him.

Simo: He was adamant about students participating in the process. He wanted you to vote and to volunteer and to understand the way politics worked. I remember one assignment that involved finding out about our local government’s budget. I went to my local library and was told that I couldn’t have access to that information. When I reported that to Andy, he said, “You go back there and you tell them you’re a taxpayer and you have a right to know that information.” I did just what he said, and I got the information. He got us to be less timid, to knock on doors.

Gruenke: Dr. Prinz always said that you need to be involved in your government. You had to be informed. That was one of his biggest influences on me.

What an Impact He Had
Bennett: He was a breed apart. He was one of those professors everyone wishes they could have in college.

Gruenke: He had a real love of cities, and you got that every day in class. You always got his A game.

Gillis: I took an English class at Elmhurst with Barbara Swords. One of her assignments was to write about a person we knew. I wrote about Dr. Prinz, on the impact he had on his students and the difference he had made in my own life. She gave him a copy of that paper and he kept it. Later, when he was sick—this must have been twenty years later—I went to visit him. As I leaned over to say goodbye, he said to me, “You know, I still have that paper you wrote.”

Pedersen: He may be gone, but his spirit lives on in his students. He touched so many lives.

Simo: He was such a wonderful mentor to me and so many others. We are bound together because of him, and we’ll never forget him.

Andrew Prinz, former director of the urban studies program at Elmhurst College.
Photo by Tom Lindfors

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