Paul McKibben reports:
Though he lost his father at a young age, Mason City Councilman Don Prince, who recently completed a term as mayor, has lived a life sprinkled with men who helped mold him.
There was his high school basketball coach Jerry Wood and his high school football coach Tom Griswold.
Then there is the Illinois landlord who helped Prince discover his Christian faith.
Prince grew up in Mariemont and Deer Park, the second of four children (three boys and one girl).
His father was police chief in Mariemont and then served as a lieutenant in Amberley Village’s police department.
When Prince was a sophomore at Deer Park High School, his father died. He had suffered from diabetes.
“It was hard,” Prince said about coping with his father’s death.
But it was sports that helped him. He was a high-jumper on the track team and played basketball and football.
His freshman year, his basketball team didn’t lose a game. Wood coached that team and moved up to the varsity team two years later when Prince was a junior.
Four of the five starters on the team his senior year didn’t have fathers at home.
A brash young man named Bill Cunningham was the only junior that started. The rest were seniors. All five starters averaged double figures in points.
Cunningham went on to fame as a talk show host at WLW-AM.
Prince remembers running into Wood’s wife. She told him her husband tried to be a father to the boys.
“He didn’t go out being like a big brother to us. … He did check up on us and he was a positive male influence in my life,” Prince said.
Prince said today he would be viewed as a child at risk, with no male influence in his life and his older brother away at college.
“These coaches put that discipline in my life that helped me,” Prince said.
Military life gave Ohio boy an international perspective
After graduating from high school in 1965, Prince worked as summer help at a Procter & Gamble factory in St. Bernard. He really didn’t want to attend college. He had a draft notice for the Army but enlisted in the Navy where he served for almost four years. During that time, Prince witnessed history and experienced some harrowing moments.
His ship got involved in the Six-Day War between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt in June 1967. Israel attacked the U.S.S. Liberty in the Mediterranean Sea. The attack wounded more than 170 and killed 34. Prince’s ship came to the Liberty’s aid after the attack.
Prince, who said he was “a learning electrician” and another man boarded the Liberty. He said the attack killed all of the Liberty’s electricians and most of the ship’s electrical systems were shut down.
Prince and his fellow sailor went into the Liberty’s belly where they walked in knee-deep water with fuel oil floating on top as they reset circuit breakers. It didn’t feel safe, but they did what needed to be done.
“We received no shocks or anything as a result,” he said.
While also in the Mediterranean, Prince saw the Cold War up close. His ship tracked a Soviet non-nuclear submarine and after 3-1/2 days the submarine had to surface for air.
“We got photos of him,” he said. “We followed him into port and then he went one way. We went another.”
A recreational scuba diver, Prince was a “ship swimmer” in the Navy. His duties involved conducting minor inspections of the ship, among others.
While serving in the Vietnam War, Prince had two somewhat close encounters with danger.
The first involved a downed American fighter jet where the pilot had died. Three men from the U.S.S. Davis dove looking for the aircraft. Instead of being in 50 feet of water, the men descended to 70 feet and still couldn’t find the bottom.
“We were after all recreational divers and we couldn’t see,” he said. “It was very murky and we got separated from each other. And as a result of that over the period 10 to 15 minutes, each of us individually decided to call it a day and come back up.” The men didn’t find the airplane.
The other Vietnam episode involved a helicopter that was shot down. Prince was summoned to report with his trunks and swimming gear to rescue a pilot who was under attack.
“Then they said ‘and all topside personnel make sure you’re wearing flak jackets and battle helmets. Except you Prince, come in your swim trunks’ and I’m going ‘whoa.’”
Another helicopter ended up rescuing the pilot.
“That was a fearful moment,” he said.
After the Navy, Prince returned to Procter & Gamble where he worked his way up into management and retired in 2007. He never attended college and technically wasn’t a “professional engineer.”
Prince said the electrical education he received in the Navy was equal to and was better in many areas than an electrical engineering degree.
“There were several instances throughout my career where I had some arcane fact stuck up in my head about a motor or something else and I was able to solve a problem that was baffling the engineers because they could do all kinds of calculations,” he said. “And they knew a bunch of theoretical stuff but they didn’t know the practical end of how electrical machinery operated.”
Path to strong Christian faith began in adulthood
Prince married his high school sweetheart Linda in 1967 while in the Navy. Daughter Angela works a nurse. Son Joel is a photographer. Their daughter Bethany is the Mason city prosecutor.
Prince said when he was at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, he and Linda began attending a small home-group Bible study. His landlord in Illinois is another person who Prince credits as being a positive figure in his life.
“He was a wonderful Christian man and at that moment under his tutelage I became a Christian,” Prince said. “I made a decision as a young adult to be a Christian based on … my contact with my landlord primarily. … That helped me through life as well. Helped me grow up in a different way.”
Today, the Princes attend Hope Church in Mason.
Prince enjoys target shooting, shooting clay pigeons and fly fishing. He’s also a firearms enthusiast. But he no longer scuba dives. He said he didn’t have enough cash as he was raising his family to take exotic vacations to the islands and go scuba diving. He sold his equipment.
“Scuba diving around here just is not the same as the Caribbean or the Mediterranean or the South Pacific which I had become used to,” he said.