The Pritz family traditions continue today. Their business model is humble, quiet, and yet spectacular. Ken helped leave a legacy for all Jolietans with the Bicentennial Park. We rue missing the mark on this family while the remarkable Ken Pritz still strolled Joliet. We have chosen to honor the family, for it is a singular and dynamic force working to make Joliet a better place to live.
Carol recalled Ken’s City Council tenure. Ken had wanted to make a difference. His difference became the Billie Limacher Will/Joliet Bicentennial Park, the only permanent Bicentennial Project in Illinois. The Park was originally to be a River Walk, “but that did not fly,” she stated. The city council at that time led by Mayor Berlinsky “was a really good working group,” Carol stated. She called the resulting Bicentennial Park the work of Billie Limacher, Ken, and then City Public Works Department head Frank Albert. Ken was part of a contingent that flew to Washington D.C. for funding to make the best park in the city of Joliet happen.
The Pritz family business model mixes quiet intentions with sometimes spectacular outcomes, demonstrated to the family by Ken Pritz. He quietly placed needy individuals into a residence, or provided food to feed a family. “He did this quietly,” his daughter Sue stated. “He would never tell anyone about this,” she remarked. Ingrained in the Pritz character is the need to give back to the community. She said the family looked at challengess with the attitude of what is next, not that is not my problem. Sue gave an extraordinary testimony to her father’s strength of character. He had known that his diagnosis was terminal, and informed the family. He refused to alter plans for a Chamber Business After Hours Christmas event at the Mansion. No one but the family was to know Ken’s predicament. The news would have placed a pall on the Chamber celebration. The event proceeded. Ken’s passing came as a shock to the community. Ken had not wished to impose additional burdens on the people and public who knew him. His silence on his personal health issues was part of his DNA, that ingrained sense that it is important to give back to your community.
Sue stated her father would never tell a stranger to “look around” if he asked for directions. Requests for directions would sometimes come to Ken as he maintained the Mansion cobblestones in his work clothes, taking out weeds. He went unrecognized as the owner at those times. Sue stated that there were times when she heard his voice on the Third Floor of the mansion. Ken would be on the roof with a client describing his plans for the uncompleted third floor. “Close your eyes, and imagine this…” he would intone to that individual.
Sue stated that there will always be something else for the Pritz family to accomplish. Ken left papers on the drawing board for the next things to be done. Each person in the family has different things to accomplish, expressed by Ken before he departed. The family continues to schedule “pot roast nights.” Those are the nights that the family principals gather to discuss decisions and directions, events and upcoming occasions, calendars, and celebrations, and the phenomena that engages the Pritz family with the citizenry of Joliet. The Post Roast Nights were a feature of the Pritz Household when important matters surfaced for discussion. The dinner gatherings were designed to bring everyone up to speed and to get everyone onto the same page with family and business events. Carol Pritz still holds the Pot Roast dinners. She stated, “When I cook Pot Roast today, everyone knows that a family meeting is in the plans that day.”
Family events attract the Pritz children and grandchildren magnetically. Easter brings forty people together at the Pritz home in the 600 block of Western Avenue. The table in the dining room connects L-shape with additional tables brought in from the banquet hall. Everyone has a seat. At Thanksgiving, Carol said they roast up to three turkeys and a ham for the meal. The night before Thanksgiving is Pizza Night for the family. Carol said that Ken invented a system to defrost a frozen turkey by placing it into the dishwasher and running it.
At Christmas you have your seat assigned at the long table. The preferred seat was always the ones closer to Ken and Carol. The seat name tags would become mobile as the kids jockeyed the seats around when no one else observed. Sometimes Ken himself would slip in and move the seat names around.
The Christmas Ball story illustrates the joy imbedded in a large family. The Christmas ball was Ken Pritz’ “big tradition.” The ball itself was made of ornaments and paper cups. After Thanksgiving, someone special in the family had the privilege of raising the ball to the top of the stairwell in the family home with Ken’s voice in song. The raising of the Christmas Ball was the “honor of the year.” Sometimes lowering was a two-person job, accompanied by singing. The Christmas Ball was the first decoration of the season to go up and the last one to come down. The Christmas Ball has become a Pritz family tradition. Each grown family members rush home after the Christmas Ball raising to raise up their own Ball in their own families now. The tradition has percolated down now to the fourth generation of Pritzes.
Project Acclaim has chosen to honor the entire Pritz family for its contributions to Joliet. We regret Ken Pritz’ passing may have caught us a year or two late on this recognition. Yet, we welcome the Pritz family into the Project Acclaim Hall of Pride. Check Our Banquet menu button for details on how to get your ticket for a seat at the November 3rd banquet which will honor Terry D'Arcy and the Pritz family at the Victorian Ballroom in Joliet.