Family establishes UIU scholarship
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Family establishes UIU scholarship
‘Bill Prochaska Night’ Saturday
By Rich Holm
Contributing News Writer
Upper Iowa University is celebrating its 156th anniversary in 2013. Many people have impacted the college’s illustrious history, but seldom are they known by a single name with so few letters such as Doc, Eb, or Pro. The paths of those three legends crossed for the first time in 1960.
Dr. John Dorman had retired as Peacock football coach after 50 years. Everett “Eb” Eischeid was a star player for Doc in 1934 only to succeed him as coach upon his retirement.
Doc asked a new student to drive him to the football field to watch practice. The student’s name was William “Billy Joe” Prochaska from Protivin. The rest is history.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pro’s graduation from UIU, which is honoring his commitment to integrity, education, and athletic excellence. That dedication is as strong today as it was when he drove Doc around Fayette 50 years ago.
Saturday, Oct. 26, will be known as “Bill Prochaska Night” when the 4-2 Peacocks take on Southwest Minnesota State at Harms-Eischeid Stadium at 6 p.m. Pro will be saluted at halftime at the 50-yard line by an expected overflow crowd including many men, women, and colleagues whose lives he has touched over the past five decades.
Prior to the game, a social will be held in the Harms-Eischeid Stadium suites from 4 p.m. until kickoff to say thanks to the Prochaska family, including Bill’s wife, Jan, children Mike and Melissa, their spouses and their children.
The Prochaska family has announced it is presenting UIU with a lead gift to establish an annual scholarship in Pro’s name. Bill hopes to personally present the scholarship each year to a deserving sophomore student pursing a career in education.
Recipients might ask, “Who is Bill Prochaska?” They will quickly learn that “all bills come at the first of the month,” knowing Pro was born on April 1, 1937, in a tiny Czech town 38 miles from campus. He was the oldest of four children born to Joseph J.R. and Wilma (Kalishek) Prochaska. The townsfolk who frequented Prochaska’s Restaurant and Tavern for 60 years knew Pro as “Billy Joe.”
He loved to play basketball at the town’s parochial school named Rudolphinum. All of Iowa soon found out where Protivin is after Billy Joe became the all-time leading scorer in Iowa high school boys’ basketball history. Upon graduation in 1955, his 2,124 points remained a record for seven years before being broken in a time when there was no three-point line.
Bill played in gymnasiums that were actually community centers where dances and parties were held, but for four years it was reserved for a kid with a remarkable jump shot and his Rudahawk teammates who won the Howard-Winneshiek Conference title in ’55.
Billy Joe Prochaska was a typical teenager. His green Oldsmobile was often seen in nearby Lime Springs, where he had eyes for a pretty post forward on the Lime Springs Comets girls’ basketball team — her name was Janet Eaton.
Prochaska was two years older than his girlfriend. He had gone to Loras College on a basketball scholarship, but after a year he came home. Bill didn’t know what he wanted in life, so he joined the Air Force in October 1956. In Europe he played basketball, baseball, and softball on service teams that won French titles.
UIU or Coe?
Meanwhile, Janet had enrolled at Coe College and saw her beau only once in three years. Bill was discharged from the Air Force in 1960, and Janet said later, “I was a junior at Coe and thought for sure Bill would enroll there with me. Instead, he told me he was going to a college named Upper Iowa.”
Janet graduated from Coe in 1961, and two months later she married her teenage heartthrob on Aug. 12.
Mrs. Prochaska became a teacher at West Central of Maynard, while her husband continued his love affair with Upper Iowa. People like Doc Dorman, Eb Eischeid, Eugene Garbee, George Richards, Stan Jack, Dr. Andrea Nadeau, and others on campus left an impression on Bill’s life. He felt that love and passion for the university that his teachers and coaches instilled in him.
Bill and his UIU teammates tied for the conference title with Parsons College their senior year.
In 1963 he saw a teaching opening at Buffalo Center that offered the highest starting base pay in Iowa — $5,100. Eb told Bill that a 5-cent stamp wouldn’t kill him and to go ahead and apply. Both Bill and Jan got jobs there. Bill turned the basketball program around and had eight winning seasons in as many years.
One winter day the phone rang. On the other end of the line were Eb and Mike Eischeid. Mike and Bill graduated together and were close friends. They were calling to say, “Bill, we want you to think about applying for a coaching vacancy. Stan Jack will be resigning as coach here (UIU), and we want you to consider the job.”
Bill applied and was later offered the job. He and Jan loaded their two children, 4-year-old Michael and 2-year-old Melissa, into their car and moved into a modest Fayette home at 505 Franklin St., where they still reside.
“Pro” began to stick
Bill was head basketball and baseball coach. He taught education classes and earned respect from his students, who knew they could not wear their hats in Mr. Prochaska’s class.
Soon people began calling him “Pro,” and the name stuck. He coached basketball for 21 years. His first All-American was Jim Bushkofsky from Elkader. He once scored 62 points in a college game and became the only small-college player in Iowa to win the coveted Clarkson Award given to the state’s No. 1 basketball player.
Pro coached baseball for 16 years, served as athletic director for nine years, and also coached men’s and women’s golf.
He would earn the title of associate professor and serve as the Divisional Chair of Education.
But Bill Prochaska’s career has not been measured in wins or losses. He helped start the UIU Hall of Fame that had its first class enshrined in 1980. He himself was inducted in 1995. He is still chairman of the HOF Committee.
Pro assisted with Doc’s Old-Time Peacocks. At every Homecoming, Doc’s boys were honored. Very few men who played for Dorman are alive today, but their memories live on, thanks to UIU.
Pro was taught it is better to give than receive, so he has made a difference in his community. He served the North Fayette school board for 13 years upon the two schools’ merger. He holds Big Rock Country Club close to his heart as past president. Bill is also an active member of the Lions Club and the Fayette American Legion.
He umpired softball games for 20 years and taught driver’s education for 37 years.
He has been enshrined in the IHSAA Players Hall of Fame, the Iowa Athletic Coaches Association HOF, the Iowa Umpires Softball HOF, and, of course, UIU’s Athletic HOF.
Surprise awaits in 2002
When Bill retired in 2002, UIU had a surprise for him. Doc had the gym named after him, Eb’s name was on the football field, so UIU found it fitting to name its basketball floor “Prochaska Court.”
At the naming ceremony Mike Eischeid recalled that phone call in 1971. He said, “Dad wanted someone who possessed a proper degree (Bill earned his MA degree from Mankato State in 1967), was a graduate of UIU, who was a solid citizen, a quality coach, a competent instructor, someone who would put students first, and somebody who would share his love and passion for the university.
“There were many who met the degree, the citizenship, coaching, teaching, and student interest criteria, but my father had reservations about the ability for someone to commit a life’s work to promoting Upper Iowa and its athletic department.”
Mike ended, “Upper Iowa was not like it is today. Limited coaching staffs, questionable facilities, heavily used equipment, bare-bones operating budgets, full teaching loads, and low teaching salaries were the norm of the day. Dad knew it was going to take someone who had a love and passion that was uncommon, and someone who was willing to spend his working life under conditions that would drive others away. He made the call.”
Bill Prochaska answered that call, and so many people are so happy he did. The past 50 years he has become recognized as “The Bob Hope of Upper Iowa.” Whether at home or on the road, he is an ambassador of the university, representing all that is good about the college.
Always same wedding gift
Over five decades he has penned hundreds of handwritten notes and letters to former students upon their successes in life. When he and Jan attend weddings, they give every couple the same gift — four glasses embossed with the letters “UIU.” Pro buys them by the case from the bookstore.
He keeps track of alumni families. Bill Prochaska practices what he preaches, because his family will always be his top priority. Mike is called “Little Pro” and is a chip off the ol’ block, wearing UIU casual clothes whenever he can as a global executive for IBM in Rochester, Minn.
Mike also married his high school sweetheart, Sandra Ott of Fayette. They are at home in Stewartville, Minn. and have three children: Mrs. Allyson Craven, a senior at N. Dakota State; Ryne, a sophomore at University of Minnesota-Duluth; and Tanner, a freshman at Stewartville High School.
Melissa followed in her mom’s footsteps at Coe. She is now Mrs. Brian Spensley of Ankeny. Brian works for Wells Fargo in Des Moines. They have two children at home: Makenzie, a senior, and Connor, a freshman at Ankeny Centennial High School.
Upper Iowa University is family, too. Bill Prochaska knows he had chances to go elsewhere in his profession, but home is where his heart is and that is Fayette. It is Franklin Street where the university Peacock blue flag flutters near his sedan with a license plate reading “PRO UIU.”
His community, his university, alumni and friends on Saturday will officially thank him for staying pat and choosing Upper Iowa University as his college of choice more than 50 years ago.