David R. Prentkowski, director of food services at the University of Notre Dame, died Thursday (Aug. 9) at his home in a drowning accident which also claimed the life of his granddaughter, Charlotte Chelminiac.“Dave and Charlotte’s tragic deaths are a shocking and heartbreaking loss,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president. “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.”
The 55-year-old Prentkowski had served as director of food services at Notre Dame since 1990. A 1979 graduate of Purdue University, he majored in hotel and restaurant management while working in the cafeterias of the university’s residence halls. Following his graduation, he worked for a time as a manager in Stouffer’s Hotel in St. Louis before returning to Purdue to earn a master’s degree.
Before coming to Notre Dame, Prentkowski served as director of food services at the University of Utah and the University of Michigan. Throughout his career, he was a prominent and active member of the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS), serving as its president from 1996-1997. Earlier this year NACUFS named its highest achievement award in Prentkowski’s honor.
At Notre Dame, Prentkowski oversaw a staff of some 500 employees and an 8,000-student residential dining program; 29 food service units and 25 campus buildings; a central food warehousing and production facility; campus catering operations; resident food services for the Congregation of Holy Cross, including two residences, a seminary and a nursing home; and food services for the campus student health center and child care center.
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.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall, Prentkowski had been undergoing chemotherapy treatments even while remaining active at work and as honorary chairperson of Notre Dame’s 2012 Relay for Life, an annual event to raise funds for cancer research. He spoke openly and generously of his own illness and treatment with his colleagues at Notre Dame.
“I’ve always tried to be the positive person and get them to talk,” he said. “The more people learn about it, the more people hopefully will contribute to cancer research or research on any disease that’s out there.”
He also spoke of his gratitude for the support of his colleagues, and particularly of Notre Dame’s emeritus president, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., with whom he often visited. Father Hesburgh recently joined several other priests to concelebrate a Mass of healing for Prentkowski in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Visitation will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday (Aug. 13) at Palmer Funeral Home (17131 Cleveland Road South). A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday (Aug. 14) in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame followed by the rite of committal in Cedar Grove Cemetery.