Looking back on 100 years of life: Elvira Preuss

Elvira Preuss was born Jan. 23, 1923, in Seymour and was a schoolteacher for several years at Immanuel Lutheran School.

With her upcoming 100th birthday, she likes to reflect on life and the memories she made.

Preuss was born in a home that was built with the wood from an old parsonage of Immanuel Lutheran Church on Walnut Street and was considered a middle child out of her eight siblings. Although Preuss said her sister, Norma, always said she was a middle child, too.

Preuss grew up being the little sister of her siblings, sometimes sporting the nickname Poodle, and learned at a young age to make herself useful most of the time. Preuss’ eyes sparked with the memory of when she and Norma were tasked with cleaning the upstairs of their home, they liked to pretend they were movie stars or hide under the bed reading.

Her niece, Renata Lewis, shared a laugh reflecting on her aunt’s shenanigans at the time. In her spare time, she also would babysit her younger siblings and remembers pushing their stroller, also called a buggy back in the day, down the street on a warm day.

Growing up, Preuss always looked up to her father, William Frederick Preuss, as he was a fellow educator and principal at Immanuel. Throughout her time in elementary school, Preuss recalls some teachers who had a lasting impact on her.

“My first grade teacher always complained about having headaches, so I made sure that I wouldn’t complain about my physical condition when I taught,” Preuss said.

Preuss’ second grade teacher showed her how to make stories and lessons fun through books. With her father being a teacher at the time before he became principal, the eighth-graders in her class always thought Preuss knew when there would be a test.

She chuckled at recalling one afternoon before the class period started running into the classroom and opening her geography book.

“The whole class had their noses in their books,” Preuss said.

When her father came into the room, the class realized they weren’t having a test, and after that, Preuss was never asked about an upcoming test again.

Despite a few instances of mischief, Preuss was a good student and rode on the coattails of her older siblings for being smart. Preuss described herself in school as not a troublemaker but a “report-maker” telling the teacher what the other kids were doing in class.

In high school, Preuss often had to walk home from school for dinner, which she said was something she griped about often. She talked about how she wished she had a dime to buy a ham salad sandwich and spend time with her friends from school.

Preuss said she always had a desire for travel and new experiences that she looked forward to being on her own. She was offered two different paths to consider for her life after high school.

With her love and talent for sewing, her sister, Elta, offered to let her live in Louisville, Kentucky, with her to take classes in dress design and interior decorating.

At the same time, her other sister, Verna, offered to lend her money to attend a teacher’s college in Chicago. Preuss’ experiences with past educators gave her a definite decision.

After graduating from high school in 1940, Preuss attended Concordia University, formerly known as Concordia Teachers College, in River Forest, Chicago. Her class was the first year that allowed women to attend.

Her incentive to attend was to take organ lessons, and she recalled a piano playing test she had to take. To this day, she still remembers the piece she performed for the professors.

“I memorized this piece called ‘Solfeggietto,’” Preuss said as she smiled mimicking her hands to play a piano.

When she got accepted to attend the university, she did not have to pay tuition, but she did pay $25 for the room and board at the time. While some of the classes were not her cup of tea, she often considered how she would conduct a classroom.

When it was time to graduate from college, graduates traveled to where they would be placed to teach. Preuss was selected to attend St. Johnsburg in New York to teach, and she stayed there for three years. During her time there, she was the first female teacher the school ever had. She stayed with multiple people during her time there.

After her time at St. Johnsburg, Preuss traveled to Chicago for a time and was eventually offered the opportunity to start a school in Tyler, Texas, in an old army barracks building.

Preuss was in Texas for two years teaching before her father had a heart attack, and she had to return back to Seymour. She decided to take a year off from teaching to take care of her mother, father and her brother, Jimmy, who was born with Down syndrome.

With her father in recovery, she decided to take his place as a substitute at Immanuel Lutheran School until he was well enough to return, although Preuss remembers planning a lot of parties with the class.

Once her father recovered, Preuss decided to take classes at Indiana University in South Bend to finish up her degree. After a few years of teaching at various other schools, Preuss decided she needed to move back to Seymour to take care of her mother and Jimmy after her father died.

“I always enjoyed teaching and telling the little kids what to do,” she said with a smile.

Preuss’ love for travel carried her to different parts of the United States. One incident in northern Indiana when she was teaching in Elkhart caused fear to cross railroad tracks for a long time. Much to Lewis’ surprise, she had never heard of the incident before.

One rainy night, Preuss was driving someone home when her car became stuck as she was trying to cross the railroad tracks. Luckily, Preuss and her passenger made it out safely, but Preuss said the only thing salvageable on the vehicle was the spare tire.

By the time she settled in Seymour, her older brothers helped her purchase a new car, yet she was still scared to cross the railroad tracks.

“The policeman had to drive my car over the tracks multiple times, and he asked me, ‘Are you ever going to cross over the tracks?’” she said.

Growing up, Preuss preferred to listen and play the hymnals at church, especially on the organ, saying she always found Elvis Presley to be a little silly.

Eventually, Preuss took the place of a teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School and made her way back into the classroom. Starting out as a teacher, she made around $80 to $100 a month and at the time also took care of Jimmy for years when he moved in with her.

Overall, her travel and teaching at seven different schools, Preuss educated children for a total of 41 years before she retired. She recalled many times she would take the class she taught on bike rides, hayrides and other field trips while also trying to make learning fun. She recalled one trip out to Freeman Field with her class to see a German plane.

Growing up in the Lutheran church, Preuss recalls one of her favorite Bible stories that made an impression on her.

“The one that affected me the most was when Jesus was hung on the cross. He went through that pain not because he wanted to, but he did it for us,” Preuss said.

Preuss believes God always had a hand on her life, and the secret to a long and wonderful life was not her own.

“It’s not my secret, but it’s God’s secret. I didn’t have anything to do with it, and I think God just wants me to stick around,” she said.

Later on in her life, Preuss became a prominent member of the Schneck Medical Center Guild in 1992 and served for many years, including time as president and vice president. In 2008, she had been a volunteer with the guild for 18 years and was awarded an accolade for the 10,000 hours she contributed since she began volunteering.

Preuss prides herself on her wanderlust experiences and the joyous memories she made with her family as they celebrate her 100th birthday on Jan. 23 at Lutheran Community Home in Seymour.

She hopes to be remembered as someone who cared for others, an exceptional teacher and a good organ player.