Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jack Prindle

Originally published Feb. 1, 2005 in The News-Sentinel

When Blake Sebring delivered his Mather Lecture on June 8, he related part of this story. We thought it interesting enough that we wanted to share the entire story with you because it covers several aspects of history--from Vietnam to Harvester to Fort Wayne Sports. Our thanks to Blake and the News-Sentinel for allowing us to re-publish this piece.

by Blake Sebring

The other day, Komets defenseman Troy Neumeier said he wished he could be as laid-back as Jack Prindle. It seems no matter what happens, the team's assistant equipment manager just glides through life. But that's because he's seen and done much, much more than your average 56-year-old.

"I tell the guys that I think everybody should go through a traumatic experience once in their life, only because it makes you appreciate what you have," Prindle said. "I think you become a better person. You look at people a lot different."
Besides his calm demeanor, Prindle is also known for being able to recall exactly defining moments in his life, although there are many he'd like to forget.
 * * *
After growing up on the corner of Dewald and Broadway and attending Central High School, Prindle was fed up with the strict lifestyle of his parents, so he chose another one, enlisting in the Marine Corps at age 17. Instead of the shirt and tie his parents required him to wear, he put on a new uniform two months after he turned 18.

"I thought I wanted something more exciting," he said.
He went through boot camp in San Diego and then was sent to Camp Pendleton. In June 1968, he entered the Vietnam conflict at DaNang. He arrived a couple months after the Viet Cong's Tet offensive.

Prindle won't be specific about what he saw or did in Vietnam, except to say that he was a sniper and sometimes spent as much as a month at a time living in trees. There was no one else to talk to for weeks, and any movement or noise meant possible discovery - and death.

"After a while, you didn't know what you were there for," he said. "...You could say you were helping people, or you thought you were at times. Little kids in the daytime would be your friends, and at night they'd turn on you in a heartbeat."

He took part in two tours and five operations and says the movie "Full Metal Jacket" is as close as Hollywood has come to what the tension was really like. The stress finally built to where he couldn't function, and nightmares forced him out of the military. He was ruled unfit for military duty and given a general discharge under honorable conditions.

 That was only the start of his hard road through life.
   * * *
 After being discharged in April, 1970, Prindle was given medication and sent home to Fort Wayne, where he married the first girl he ever dated. Her brother got him a job at Harvester, and soon a son and a daughter were born. That was the positive side of life.
 "I was drinking really, really heavy, and my wife wanted to get me some help," Prindle said. "I said I didn't have a drinking problem, but I was acting weird, such as sleeping in my car and not coming home, and I started missing work. The only way they would let me back was if I saw a psychiatrist."
A doctor recommended Prindle be admitted to Parkview South Unit, where shock treatments were ordered to help eliminate the nightmares. First thing in the morning, nurses would grease up his ankles, wrists, temples and sides and give him a shot to put him to sleep. A rubber bit was put in his mouth so he wouldn't swallow his tongue.
 "When they put the shot in your arm, it felt like your head would explode," he said. "You'd wake up and never know where you were for a while. You felt like a zombie.
"At the time, if I smelled something or something caught my eye, your mind would race right back there. (The treatment) did work pretty well."
The treatments were held Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings until 20 were completed. After eight months he was released to return to his marriage and his job, but, unfortunately, to his drinking as well.
 "I put my wife through a lot. I'd show up and I'd leave again. I had no business being married. I wasn't fit to live with."
His wife eventually got a restraining order, but after she would leave for work in the morning, Prindle would crawl in through a window and sleep off his drinking. They finally divorced in 1980.
 * * *
 Three times Prindle tried to re-enlist with the Marine Corps, the last time at age 35.
"There was something about it I just missed," he said. "Maybe it was the thrill. You come back here and get married, which was fine, but that wears off and your mind is always somewhere else."
 He was living off insurance checks from Harvester and had plenty of drinking buddies who would support his habit when he didn't have the money. Eventually, however, he became homeless. For two years, he often lived under bridges. He eventually checked himself back into Parkview for 10 more rounds of shock treatments in early 1979.
There he met a woman, and they moved in together that November using money the Veterans' Administration paid him. He also got his job back at Harvester - but the drinking continued.
"I thought I was a big shot, bringing home steaks, and of course bringing home beer, too. May 25, 1980, I had one of my drinking binges, scared her and she took off."
He was crushed, falling into a fog of alcohol, doubt and self-pity, and didn't pay his rent for months. The sheriff's department evicted him, and Prindle returned to the streets.
 * * *

 For a while he lived out of a 1963 Chevy, until he sold it for $30 or $40, which he spent drinking. Often he'd eat at St. Mary's Soup Kitchen or at the Rescue Mission. He hitchhiked to Florida twice.
"Don't go through Ohio because it's a booger to get picked up there," he said. "Down in Kentucky and Tennessee, all they wanted to do was party, and that's all I wanted to do."
He recalls going to Komets games, picking up enough aluminum cans to buy cigarettes, a ticket and a bottle of rum. Then he'd pour the rum into a soda at the coliseum. One night he passed out in Section 31, woke up at 1 a.m. and tried walking home to the bridge, but passed out again at the corner of Parnell and Spy Run. The grass was long, he said, but that's about all he remembers.
 He was trying to figure things out, he said, and having a pity party. There was no direction in his life, and he wasn't sure if he really wanted to find one.
"I remember when I was in my heyday drinking, I'd look in the mirror and see my bloodshot eyes and curse myself out," he said. " `You worthless bastard.' I'd stay off the booze for a day and then go right back into it."
In June 1983 a buddy suggested they take a bus to Las Vegas and live in the desert. The only problem was the buddy got scared and left for home the day after they arrived - but didn't tell Prindle. After a while, he couldn't get into the casinos any more, so he would clip coupons for free hot dogs and Cokes to survive.
* * *

He stayed on the streets of Las Vegas for a month, then checked into a Salvation Army Clinic for a year of alcohol rehabilitation. He also found religion while watching a Billy Graham Crusade on TV. Somehow, he felt the message was directed at him.
"I came to the end of the road," he said. "I had nowhere else to go. Anything else there is in life, I tried it, and none of it worked. It always left you empty because it's not meant to fulfill you."
 He came out of rehab and returned to the Las Vegas streets. A buddy and some of his friends took a vacation to Las Vegas in 1984 and saved enough money for Prindle to get a bus ride home. He stayed with some friends for more than a year, trying to get his life together.
"I finally started to taper off from the booze," he said. "I could see myself going back in the same position again, and I think I just got sick of it. Maybe I looked at the past and said this isn't worth it. I realized I had not only made a mess of my life, but a lot of people's."
After coming home, he found summer employment with Galbreath Landscaping. He received unemployment during the winters but one day in 1989 decided he needed something to do, so he went to McMillen Park Ice Arena to learn to skate. He was 40 years old and started playing pickup hockey as a goaltender.
 Then, in 1993, on the last day of pickup hockey for the year, he was leaving the arena when manager Mitzi Toepfer asked if he'd like a job. He'd be responsible for cleaning the building late at night and making sure the ice was ready to go the next day.
That fall he stuck around after his overnight shift and set up some of the Komets' equipment, organizing sticks and filling water bottles to help equipment manager Joe Franke, who has become Prindle's mentor. Eventually, Prindle started to work full-time for the team during the season and for the Parks and Recreation Department during the summers. Now he practically lives at the rink, often arriving before 6 a.m., and when he's not there he's usually doing something with his son or daughter and his three grandsons and three granddaughters. He repaired his relationship with his kids in 1986, and said they never held anything against him.
"They've never said one negative thing," he said.
* * *
So, no, very little flusters Jack Prindle these days.
 "I took a hard road to get here, but I think it's the only road I had," he said. "Maybe I used that stuff as an excuse to do what I wanted to do. You have to remember it was my choice to live on the streets. I wanted that lifestyle because it made me think back. I used to be bitter, but I'm not anymore."
He loves being around the Komets, finally finding the camaraderie he had searched for since leaving the Marine Corps.
Now he looks forward to the next day and sleeps only about four hours a night. The players and former players know that and often call in the middle of the night to talk. After a life spent trying to miss everything, now he doesn't want to miss anything.
 "You know what I told these guys? I love getting older. It's more fun. Right now I wouldn't trade what I went through. Look where I'm at now - I'm the happiest I've ever been. I see the Lord leading me and I know I'm on the path I'm supposed to be."
 In a life scarred by war and his own personal battles, he has finally found peace.
Today, Jack Prindle, 64, works for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department where he's been the last 21 years.

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