Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Saturday, February 18, 1941, Page 16

No. 43 in a Mason City Series of Success Stories

Paul Henry Prehn, Wrestler, Restauranteur

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Thirty-two years ago - it was in 1908 - Mason City sports fans were talking about what was probably the most unusual wrestling match ever to be staged here - a contest that pitted a scrawny 140 pound kid of 16 against a 185 pound professional grappler named Anderson in the old Parker Opera house.

Rules of the match said that Anderson was to throw his young opponent twice in an hour. But the youngster, engaging in his first professional bout and in a main event at that, made a monkey out of his larger opponent and pinned his shoulders to the mat in 33 minutes.

That incident is typical of the way Paul Prehn, now a leading businessman and sports authority and prominent in Illinois politics, does things. It might be called the keynote of his life.

* * *

Paul H. Prehn - the H is for Henry - is well known to Mason Cityans. They remember him as a colorful and able athlete, a member of the local police force and a hard working and capable employe (sic) of several local firms.

Paul was born in Mason City Sept. 5, 1892, in a red brick house just north of the sugar beet plant, across the creek on the east side of the highway. Two years later the family moved to an old home on Carolina avenue northeast.

As a boy Paul attended country school on Carolina avenue northeast, near the river and across from the old brewery and stone quarry. He later attended the Hamilton School of Commerce.

At the age of 14 he went to work for Jacob F. Decker and sons and then to the Stott meat market. One day he landed a job with the People's Gas and Electric company as a gas fitting helper and in his spare time he fooled around in the electrical repair shop.

* * *

It's typical of Paul Prehn that anything he does he does well. He seems to have a capacity for applying himself to almost anything and becoming [an] expert at it.

And that was the case in the electrical repair shop. Teaching himself and learning from others, he soon became good enough at that kind of work to be the "trouble shooter" and an electrical helper. Later he filled the position of meter repair man.

When he was 12 years old Paul had become well acquainted with Max Gorman, then superintendent of the P.E. and E.M. Gorman, himself a fine wrestler and boxer, took an interest in the youngster and began to teach him these two sports.

* * *

Max Gorman had a great deal of influence on Paul. It is probable that much of the credit for the former Mason Cityan's later athletic prowess should go to him for the fine foundation he gave the budding athlete.

Mr. Gorman, father of four daughters, had always wanted a son too and so he more of less unofficially adopted the young Paul Prehn and from the time Paul was 12 years old they were great pals. Before he had a gymnasium, Mr. Gorman took the largest room in his house - they lived in a big farm home on Carolina avenue northwest - and converted it into a gym.

It was under his older friend's tutelage that Paul Prehn wrestled his first preliminary, a match at Lyle, Minn., which he won at the age of 14. He received $5 for expenses.

Then, two years later, he won the never-to-be-forgotten match in the old opera house.

* * *

Of course, wrestling and boxing were more or less sidelines to the young Mason Cityan. He worked for the P.G. and E. for a time and then became a member of the police force, the first motorcycle policeman Mason City ever had.

Between the ages of 12 and 14 Paul did a lot of boxing and wrestling with unusual success and winning considerable recognition for himself and his home town. For a number of years he operated a gym in the old Kirk apartment building here.

Then in 1916 Pancho Villa began making trouble along the Mexican border and the Iowa National Guard was among the forces sent down there to try to quiet him down. Paul Prehn went as a member of company D of the second regiment.

In his border service Paul was an instructor in athletics and did a great deal of boxing and wrestling.

* * *

Then came 1917 and the World war, During this time the Mason City youth was an instructor in boxing and wrestling and had charge of the athletic programs of the Y. M. C. A. and K. C. buildings at Camp Dodge.

In 1919 the Inter-Allied games were held at Paris and the winner of the Inter-Allied middle-weight wrestling championship was none other than Mason City's Paul Prehn.

On his return from France, Paul was appointed acting director at Camp Dodge under the supervision of Major John L. Griffith.

Returning to civilian life, Paul was named boxing and wrestling coach at the University of Illinois.

Prehn-tutored wrestlers at Illinois were unusually successful, for the nine years that the former Mason Cityan coached there, his wrestling teams won or tied for seven Big Ten championships.

As head coach, Paul guided the Fighting Illini to a 47-3 record from 1920-1928.

* * *

While at the university Paul wrote two books on "Scientific Methods of Wrestling," now used in a great many U.S. colleges and high schools for teaching the sport.

In 1921 Paul branched into something else - a business with which he was more or less unfamiliar - when he opened a campus restaurant. Proof of his ability to make good at whatever he puts his hand to is shown in the fact he now operates three of these campus "coke and smoke" places, employing more than 150 Illinois university students.

One of the biggest kicks he gets out of this enterprise is that he is helping a good many young men and women to get a college education they might otherwise not have. Often he is told that some boy or girl he had helped is making good and he enjoys hearing that immensely.

* * *

Interested in politics was the former Mason Cityan, and in 1928 the Young Republicans Organization in Illinois was founded in the Park ballroom above Paul's Greet street restaurant with the former Mason Cityan the active leader. He became the state sponsor and in 1930 was appointed state director of the Illinois Young Republican League by the state central committee. He held this post for several years.

On Dec. 31, 1929, Paul Prehn and Miss Alyene E. Westfall, a girl he had met while she was a student at the university, were married. Mr. Prehn is a native of Bridgeport, Ill., and was a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority while at the university. They are the parents of a son, Paul H. Prehn, Jr., who was born in 1935.

During the 1920's, Paul was a member of and chairman of the Illinois Athletic commission, and served at the time of the famous "Battle of the Century" between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.

* * *

In 1928-29 he served as president of the National Boxing Association, one of the most powerful organizations in the sport. He has also been a member of the Central A. A. U. boxing and wrestling committee and was one of the founders and organizers of the National Wrestling Association.

Paul was a member of the Chicago "Century of Progress" athletic committee and was appointed director of National American Legion activity in 1930.

During the last 10 years the former Mason Cityan has continued his activity in state politics and is at present a member of the state central committee. He was one of the early supporters of Dwight Green, the "Green Governor" campaign having been launched in Champaign. Mr. Green was elected governor at the last November election, winning easily while the state went heavily for Roosevelt.

* * *

As an administrator and organizer, Paul Prehn has shown his worth in his work with the Illinois State Restaurant Association. Three years ago, when the organization was a weak, anemic thing that boasted only 48 members, Paul accepted the chairmanship of the committee reorganizing the association.

Under his leadership the association has grown to a robust, healthy organization with more than 700 new members. And it's still growing.

Paul at the present time is president of the state association, having been elected last May.

* * *

But this does not constitute all of Paul Prehn's work. He has been a frequent sports authority on regular programs and on fight broadcasts over WGN and WENR, Chicago, and WDZ, Tuscola.

He was named in "Who's Who Among America's Young Men" in 1936-37.

The success of the Prehn restaurants in Champaign has not only been from a popular stand-point, but also from a gastronomic angle. The Green street restaurant rated the first two editions of Duncan Hine's "Adventures in Good Eating," a widely accepted bible for gourmets and lovers of good food.

The Champaign restaurant man had for the last three and a half years been interested in the method of corrective eating advocated by Dr. William Howard Hay, M.D. He has found the system keeps him in fine physical condition, holds his weight down and keeps Mrs. Prehn and Paul, Jr. in fine health.

* * *

Because of the demand for health foods in Champaign, the former Mason Cityan branched out into still another enterprise two years ago when he opened a health food store. The success of the store is marked by the fact that it is now shipping health foods to customers in 42 states.

All in all, it looks like the word "success" can be well pinned on Paul Prehn, for everything he undertakes he makes a go of. He was a top notch athlete for more than 20 years, winning several titles at various weights. He was an outstanding coach, as his record at Illinois shows.

He has been a highly successful business man. He has proven himself an able administrator in the athletic world as well as a competitor. His record with the Illinois State Restaurant Association shows him to be highly successful as an organizer, salesman and administrator. And his able showing in the world of practical politics has also been outstanding.

In fact, it appears that there's nothing he can't handle, once he undertakes it.

NOTE: Paul Henry Prehn, Sr. died in May of 1973, and was interred at Roselawn Cemetery, Champaign, Illinois. His wife, Alyene Elizabeth (Westfall) Prehn, was born on Feb. 17, 1905, and died in Alamo, CA April 7, 2003. She was interred beside her husband.

Photographs courtesy of Globe-Gazette

Transcription and note by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2014



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