Edwin Prentke was born in early 1904 -- less than three months following the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk and two years before Lee DeForest invented the vacuum tube, the first active electronic component. (1902 telegram congratulating Ed's parents on their marriage) Esther Green was born in late 1907.
Ed soon was pursuing his passion for cars.
Following graduation from East Tech High School in Cleveland, Ohio, Ed began his electrical engineering education at Case School of Applied Science. The summer following his freshman year, Ed attended Camp Case with his classmates to fulfill the requirement of the day. There they stayed in tents and learned to survey, to identify trees by their bark, and related skills. Letters from Camp Case.
Ed's frustration at early cars being available only in black drove him to paint his car yellow. His affinity for yellow cars carried through to the purchase of his last car, a bright yellow 2003 Mustang convertible.
Esther was a very good typist, winning awards in 1923 and 1924.
When Ed graduated from Case in 1926, electrical engineering jobs were scarce. It was the era of the radio, and Ed's first work was door-to-door radio service. When his sweetheart Esther Green informed him that a prerequisite to marriage was that Ed have his own establishment, Ed rented a storefront for his business. They were married in 1933.
Here is Ed's business card:
and on the back he had written to Esther
Ed was an avid photographer and joined the Cleveland Photographic Society.
Ed took this photo of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindberg at the 1929 Cleveland Air Races just two years after the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight.
Ed's enthusiasm for photography led to the addition of cameras and photographic supplies to the business. Eventually Prentke's, Inc. became dedicated to this area of sales and service.
In addition to the photographic shop, Ed was involved in other activities. (Accounts of this era included frequent references to "Esther ran the store".) He taught electronics at both Case and Fenn College, now Cleveland State University. He wrote self-study courses for Cleveland Institute of Electronics. During WWII, he was a partner in a machine shop working for the war effort.
Esther played the piano and Ed played the organ. Ed was once part of a group of eleven organs and participated in a public performance.
They were a handsome couple.
Both Ed and Esther became avid sailors. They bought a wooden 28' ketch around 1945, in which they sailed the Great Lakes.
By the mid fifties, Ed and Esther were thinking of retirement. They sold the camera store, but soon realized that retirement was not a good idea for them. Through a connection with physiatrist Charles Long, M.D., both Ed and Esther secured employment at Highland View Hospital, the Cuyahoga County rehabilitation facility. They worked in a research lab. Ed also built some early assistive technology for high level spinal cord injury patients in the hospital.
Around this time, James Reswick, Ph.D. was director of the Engineering Design Center at Case (by then Case Institute of Technology, now part of Case Western Reserve University). Drs. Long and Reswick collaborated on a federally-funded research program investigating the control of upper extremity powered orthoses. Through this program, Ed got acquainted with Case engineering students. One of them was Barry Romich, and in 1966 Prentke Romich Company (PRC) was formed as a spinoff of this research program.
Among early projects were a device to limit the acceleration of powered wheelchairs, which otherwise started with a jerk because this was prior to electronic controls. A paraplegic patient in the hospital helped to design and build the first communication device for a man who had had a stroke. It was based on a discarded teletype machine.
Ed and his work were frequently featured in the local media.
Ed continued to contribute to the growth of PRC until 1979, when at the age of 75 he retired from PRC. (He continued his hospital employment.) PRC has continued to grow and has touched the lives of many tens of thousands of people with disabilities around the world.
Following a national search for a "Renaissance tinkerer" in 1982, Brandeis University presented Ed with the Distinguished Service Award. The inscription reads:
"Your technological wizardry
liberates the physically disabled
and your abiding faith in their total humanity restores their dignity."
Ed continued full time employment at the hospital until he was nearly 88. Here are some additional items:
In in 1999, when I, Les Bubik, was Volunteering at Metro-Health Medical Centre, met Ed Pentke and it was a match made in heaven. we started building all kinds of cool stuff. With a background in Electronics I and the son of a famous Engineer, Ed and I designed all kinds of stuff together and he took me around to the different departments, where I met Vince the Photographer who soon became my good friend as well. As He was taking pictures of all the things Ed and I came up with. I will miss Ed but in the spirit of things, he will live forever in my heart.
He even introduced me to A Radiologist I I almost marred and also another guy who became a very good friend of mine. Dr, Michael Scott. Though I lost touch with him, if anyone knows where he is, I would love to touch base with him again. he was the one to helped me quite smoking and his father works for that dreaded IRS. Mike was an African American Doctor working at Metro-Heath medical centre at the time.
Here is a picture which Vince too, when Ed and I went sailing. One summer we went almost every weekend. I told ed if he ever wanted to get rig of the boat, I would taken it and build a house around it. he actuall called me one day to give it to me. I was honored. I could not do it at the time, so I told him to give it to the next person on the list. he really loved that boat. many times Ed, Ester and I would go for a sale and sometimes just Ed and I. All I need to s is think of Ed and a smile always comes to mind.
I remember once, I was working on something for Emerg and he thought was I created was ingenious. he said You should be a clinical engineer. Now I too am doing all kinds of things with wheelchairs and I am the first to develop a solar power pack that will enable a wheelchair to go 20 to 40% father and carry 100 % more cargo.
Ed and i have some tools names after us. I always included Ed even though he insisted it was not necessary like the Prentlke_Bubik Arm which I will dig up the photograph, somehow. He actually called me and said that Metro-heath Medical center started making and selling them. He and I just looked at each with that kind of displeased look, shrugged our shoulders and then kept going, I made several things for Metro-Heath medical centre, who kicked me out for spending too much time there, but that didn't stop Ed and I from making all kinds of other things together. many times he would bring things to me to work on because i loved doing it so much.
On cruises, he received preferential treatment.
Ed attracted the attractive.
At 103, he received the Presidential recognition letter and was featured by Willard Scott on NBC national television.
Edwin Morris Prentke died on May 21, 2007. OBITUARY
Ed has provided that the Prentke legacy be perpetuated through the work of AAC Institute. Income from the Prentke Endowment is used to support various AAC Institute initiatives that relate to people with disabilities.
Donations to the AAC Institute Prentke Endowment honor both Edwin and Esther Prentke. Donations are tax deductible, and support work that benefits people with disabilities. Contributions can be made at the AAC Institute site or can be sent to:
1000 Killarney Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
Contributions of Prentke tributes, anecdotes, and photos are also welcome and can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Actual photographs can be sent to Barry Romich, 1022 Heyl Road, Wooster, OH 44691 to be scanned for the Tributes page.) Please include any contact information that you are comfortable making public. We are part of a community whose lives have been touched so positively by Ed and Esther Prentke.