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Food services director dies

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared Aug. 10 on ndsmcobserver.com

David Prentkowski, director of food services at Notre Dame, died Aug. 9 at his home in a drowning accident, a University press release stated.

The accident also claimed the life of his 18-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte Chelminiac.

“Dave and Charlotte’s tragic deaths are a shocking and heartbreaking loss,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said. “Dave’s energy, devotion and courage will continue to inspire the Notre Dame family even as his death and the Prentkowski family’s grief are in our prayers.”

David Harr, associate vice president of auxiliary operations, said he knew Prentkowski as a friend and colleague for 32 years.

“Dave had a quiet demeanor but a presence about himself when he walked into a room or operation,” Harr said. “He would always advocate in the best interest of the student while keeping his staff involved with the decision-making process from beginning to end.”

Students were always the most important focus of Prentkowski’s initiatives, Harr said.

“During Dave’s tenure, Food Services experienced tremendous growth and enhancement and he deserves credit for modernizing a somewhat antiquated food service program when he arrived in 1990, as well as addressing the changing needs of students through expansion of the campus retail food program,” Harr said. “Dave’s leadership with the renovation of the South Dining Hall in 1998 and enhancements made to that dining program remains a strong anchor for Food Services today.”

Prentkowski won almost every possible award in the food service industry, and Harr said the National Association of College and University Food Services even named an award after the former director.

“He would always come back (when he won an award) and thank his staff to make them part of the recognition and achievement,” Harr said.

Last fall, Prentkowski was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even as he was struggling with the disease, Harr said the director remained focused on serving the University and its students.

“When Dave came to me last fall to share the news about his pancreatic cancer, I asked him at the end of our meeting what I could do for him from this point on,” Harr said. “He clearly said, ‘Business as usual.’ Dave did not want any extra attention or sympathy. I know that I speak on behalf of the entire Notre Dame community that Dave will be deeply missed.”

St. Joseph County Police responded to the Granger home just after 7:20 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 9, a department press release stated. Preliminary autopsies ruled the cause of death for Prentkowski, 55, and his granddaughter to be accidental drowning. There is no evidence of foul play, police said.

“Officers at the scene were told that the 55-year-old had taken the 18-month-old for a walk while his wife prepared dinner,” the release stated. “When the wife saw that the two had not returned from their walk after some time, the wife sent the couple’s adult son to look for them.”

Prentkowski’s son had just returned from checking the surrounding neighborhood when he noticed the two in the bottom of the backyard pool, police said. He and a friend jumped into the pool and pulled the two victims from the water.

Officers called to the home performed CPR on the victims, but both were pronounced dead within several hours of the accident.

Prentkowski had served as the director of food services at Notre Dame since 1990. He graduated from Purdue University in 1979, and he had also worked at Stouffer’s Hotel in St. Louis, the University of Utah and the University of Michigan.

“A seemingly omnipresent and indefatigably cheerful presence wherever meals were being planned, prepared, enjoyed and shared at Notre Dame, Prentkowski twice was honored by Notre Dame’s student body with its Irish Clover Award for contributions to student life, in 1998 and earlier this year,” the release stated.

Even during his treatments for pancreatic cancer, he served as an honorary chairperson of Notre Dame’s 2012 Relay for Life, which raises funds for cancer research. He often spoke openly about his illness with colleagues and friends.

“I’ve always tried to be the positive person and get them to talk,” he said, quoted in the University’s press release. “The more people learn about it, the more people hopefully will contribute to cancer research on any disease that’s out there.”