A TRIBUTE TO A MAN AHEAD OF HIS TIME

By Jennifer Brown, "The Winged M"
Compliments of Multnomah Athletic Club

Reprinted with permission of AOBS Newsletter (Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen)



Joe Loprinzi was born in Portland in 1914, one of five children: Lena, Gus, Sam, Joe, and Phil. Joe was an active boy, playing baseball, basketball, any sport he could find, usually with his brother Sam.

He and Sam, 18 months his senior, were particularly close. They went everywhere and did everything together. One day the pair saw a strongman act at Portland's Hippodrome Theater.

"We decided to make some weights out of cement," says Loprinzi. "So we would take some cans and pour cement into them and put a pipe in between. We couldn't afford to buy weights in those days. Then we would go on down to the old railroad track and pick up some old pipes and some old wheels and work out that way there."

When he first started weight training, Loprinzi was big on determination, but not so big on muscles--not yet.

That came later.

"At 13 or 14, I weighed 105 pounds," he recalls. "I got teased by the other kids, and I decided, I'm gonna make them eat those words."

The improvement he saw in his physique changed his life. "You wouldn't believe the progress you can get with weight training," he says. The young brothers scraped together $5 to sign up for the Charles Atlas course and got hooked on physical fitness. In 1930 they started a gym next to their garage and called it the Portland Barbell Club. The two used to lift there, and then found out that they could compete for Multnomah Athletic Club as competitive lifters. So the two Loprinzis and a friend named George Pavlich applied to lift for the club.

The club gave Loprinzi an athletic membership in 1934, and he represented the club in competition. Loprinzi took the state amateur title in weight lifting in 1936.

Loprinzi was working out at the club one August day in 1937 when he was approached by Jack Peebler, who was in charge of weight training and massage. Peebler needed an assistant. "Joe, would you like to work for the club?" He asked. "Will you work three weeks for nothing?"

It was hard to resist such a deal, but Loprinzi held firm. "I should get something, don't you think? I know something about weight training. I have some kind of background." So Peebler offered him $60 a month and threw in a typewriter, too.

Loprinzi worked at the club for 60 years, leaving only briefly to serve in the Navy in World War II from 1941-45.

The war over, Loprinzi celebrated peacetime by attending a dance on a December evening in 1945. There he met Darleen, an outgoing young nurse from the farmlands of South Dakota. They were married in 1949.

The Loprinzis have two daughters, Pam and Janet. They have one granddaughter, Rachel.

Once he was back at the club for good, Loprinzi focused on helping others. He headed the physical fitness department, taught weight training, calisthenics, squash, gave massages, and initiated fitness programs that changed and extended countless lives.

With club manager Verne Perry's encouragement, Loprinzi started a women's weight training class that grew from seven women to more than 90. When the club underwent improvements, he advocated a new weight room.

And then there was jogging. "We started jogging in the early '60s, and they thought we were crazy," Loprinzi laughs. "We were just a handful of joggers then. We used to run around the old track. We started jogging up in the hills, then in the stadium."

Soon Loprinzi initiated organized runs like the Zoo Run and the Tennis Court Run. "We used to have as many as 500 runners," he says.

When hip replacement surgery put a stop to the running, Loprinzi took up walking with his usual enthusiasm.

For 18 years, Loprinzi shared his enthusiasm for exercise with the television viewing public by teaching fitness on KGW-TV's Telescope and Early Bird shows. Loprinzi's exercise segments were interspersed throughout the one-hour show.

In recognition of Loprinzi's special gift for making fitness fun, the club established the Joe Loprinzi Inspirational Award in 1988. The award recognizes one member each year who embodies the enthusiastic interest in fitness shown by Loprinzi. A perpetual plaque is on display in the alcove trophy case and an annual banquet honors the nominees.

In later years Loprinzi taught weight training, leading men's conditioning classes, working with members on rehabilitation and corrective exercise, giving massages, offering pep talks and providing a listening ear and solid advice.

The Loprinzi Wing

"The addition of the new wing makes MAC the giant of athletic clubs," says Loprinzi. "You'll never find a club with the athletic facilities that we have."

More than 500 people attended a retirement party held in Loprinzi's honor in August 1997. It was at this party that Bob Gulick, NMC's president at the time, read the Board of Trustees' resolution to name the West End expansion the Loprinzi Wing.

"I thought it was a joke," Loprinzi says. "I was just doing my job. I've talked to many members, and they're very happy about the expansion," he says. "They're very proud of their club. I've heard people say, ' I can't help but work out with the new facilities. This motivates me.' I'm back!'"

"My family is very proud. I'm glad that, at my age, I'm alive to see the wing. I'm very thankful that it's something that my family can be proud of. It's a great honor."

Loprinzi's dedication to MAC is going strong, despite the fact that he's been retired for two years. He can't walk through the club without stopping to talk to several acquaintances or to met new members touring the club.

"We call him the Pope," says weight room supervisor Pete Greer. "People think the Pope is Polish, but they're wrong. He's Italian."

"I think members know that I love the club," says Loprinzi. "I am always here to help anyone. I always introduce myself to new members. I'm a great believer in having them know that I care."

"When a member works out, it's a challenge to me to make them feel better. When they feel better, I feel better. Health and fitness are important."

Since his retirement, Loprinzi still works out at the club, and he admits to having a few "honey do" requests from his wife on his list of things to do.

"It was hard to retire, but it was time," he says. "You have to adjust yourself to retirement, and I've adjusted. As long as I can come to the club, that makes me happy."

"I give my wife credit. She's had a lot of patience with me--we've been married for 50 years. I thank her for our two daughters and granddaughter. I'm very fortunate to have such a nice wife. I don't know what I'd do without her."

Loprinzi knows what it takes to keep the club and the new wing running, and he does not hesitate to thank the many members and employees who make MAC what it is. "I want to thank everyone that made this possible," he says. "I love you all!"

When asked the significance of the wing's name, Loprinzi hesitates. He quickly admits that he doesn't believe in boasting.

"I still think that I'm dreaming," he says. "The wing is something that my family will have forever."

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