Duane Prorok of Valley has been a widower for 16 years, but he has kept his wife’s legacy alive in the pages of The World-Herald.
He and Zita had been married for almost 46 years when she died in 2003. The next year, Prorok donated to the newspaper’s
Goodfellows charity with a simple dedication: “In memory of Zita.” She had fought cancer for about two years.
Over the years since then, he’s given various amounts to the fund, which provides one-time emergency assistance for rent, utilities and other needs to struggling area residents, in addition to holiday food vouchers and back-to-school clothes. And his gift is always dedicated to Zita.
“She was just a great lady,” said Prorok, 81. “We had six children in nine years, and we were empty nesters for a long time. We enjoyed each other’s company and traveled.”
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Throughout her adult life, Zita amassed an impressive list of community activities and volunteer work at church and the schools her kids attended, according to an
obituary in the Fremont Tribune.
She also helped with the senior center lunch program and took care of the Valley city sign. She was the captain of a tennis group and helped her kids with paper routes.
And she had part-time housekeeping jobs when her kids had finished school, working for priests in the Omaha area.
Prorok said he decided to give to Goodfellows in her name because “it’s just a good organization.” The World-Herald pays all administrative costs, so every dollar given goes directly to those who need help.
Since retiring from his job as an engineer at Valmont, Prorok has become a volunteer himself. He has been a mentor to a student and serves as a volunteer receptionist at Methodist Women’s Hospital. He’s also on the board of COPE, Christian Outreach Program-Elkhorn.
He never remarried.
“We had a fabulous marriage,” he said, “and I’ve never found anyone who is compatible and matched up to her.”
Photos: The World-Herald's Goodfellows fund through the years
In 1926, in conjunction with the Goodfellows Christmas drive, this Christmas Lodge and Reindeer Park was set up on the courthouse lawn. As verified by the size of the crowds shown here, the arrangement was wildly popular.
Eugene is shown here in 1936 with his only toy, an air gun (without a barrel) that he found near a dump.
“Dear Goodfellows” — a letter from hundreds upon hundreds of underprivileged children of Omaha. “Christmas is an important and precious thing to children,” said the Goodfellows administrator. “To be passed by when other children are happy leaves a hurt that may never quite heal. It would be better for hundreds of persons to give up their conventional exchange of gifts if it would save one or two children from this hurt. Please join the Goodfellows!”
The father of this family was killed in a car crash and the children don't feel well, as they're undernourished. Photo from December 1938.
A letter to Goodfellows from Bobby, age 8, in 1939. Monday afternoon a World-Herald reporter and photographer visited Bobby's home. Bobby's mother said some oatmeal and apples were the only food in the house.
In pert red sweaters, black shirts and white blouses, these eight girls from “Geathers,” the University of Omaha Pep Club, went to the Goodfellows Mile o’ Dimes board at 16th and Farnam Streets on Dec. 6, 1939, and deposited $5 for the organization. Celia Lipsman, front, is the club’s president.
Is the large board ready for Omaha's donations? It must be filled many times if the city's poor children are to be happy on Christmas. Photo from 1939.
All the city commissioners voted "aya" for The World-Herald Goodfellows in 1941 and backed up their vote with a contribution of $5 each. City Clerk Joe Dineen added a dollar to make the total $36, and the funds were delivered to the Mile o' Dimes. Left to right, front row: Commissioners Jepsen and Dineen and Mayor Butler; back row, left to right: Commissioners Kresl, Trustin, Korisko, Towl and Knudsen.
Kathelle Wallace, clerk in the army finance office in the Woodmen of the World Building, holds the handful of dimes collected in that office for the Goodfellows Mile o'Dimes board at 16th and Farnam Streets on Dec. 18, 1941. The handful amounted to $10.70.
The Union Pacific Junior Drum and Bugle Corps marched for the Mile o' Dimes in 1941.
Three little soldiers on Dec. 14, 1942.
The hard way ... a penny a day. One man never fails to send a Goodfellow donation. He always sends the same amount — $3.65. That's 1 cent for each day in the year. The letter that accompanied a 1947 contribution might have been written by a hurried businessman. It reads: "Enclosed please find donation for the Goodfellows." His address? The State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
Gary, 2, pictured in December 1948. A frying pan and car without wheels are his toys.
Girl Scouts aid by sponging and cleaning soft toys on Dec. 8, 1948. From left to right are Barbara Frederiksen, Shirley Hallback and Patty Hoffman. They are from Troop 147 at North High School.
Bernice and Richard in December 1951. A tired mother answers the door and brightens visibly when she finds the caller is not a bill collector. Five children between the ages of 2 and 9 are clustered about her. The husband has been ill, the bills have piled up, and the outlook for Christmas is bleak.
The little boy in the picture is a member of a family that needs help. His mother has been home from the hospital just six days after having been there for an operation. His father is a former bricklayer. He no longer can do that work because of the loss of an arm. Photo from December 1953.
The two-room tar paper house in the littered backyard of another home looked desolate in the chill of the evening. Inside a little girl was playing with a battered rubber doll. Her name is Jacqueline and she is 3. She has two brothers. There is not much to amuse the three children. Jacqueline's father is in the service and is not due to return to the U.S. until March 1954.
Many a youngster brushed aside a tear on Oct. 15, 1957, and then contributed a favorite toy to the annual Goodfellows toy drive. Piles of toys mounted steadily at Omaha schools. At Windsor School, these fourth graders participated, from left: John Reynolds, Russell Masloski, Loretta Jones, Lanis Latta, Ginger Kay Schreck and Denny Harshburger.
The Coolers, from left, George Miles, William Starks, Henry Redd and Jimmy Starks, won first in The World-Herald Goodfellows Show Wagon District Contest in Kountze Park on July 28, 1960.
The Gulizia brothers at the Goodfellows Show Wagon Contest at Pulaski Park in June 1962.
From left, Michael, Kathy and Sharon McLaughlin, Barbara Willets and Mary Beth McLaughlin singing "Jingle Bells" on Dec. 19, 1962. The five youngsters made the rounds in their neighborhood singing Christmas carols with "Jingle Bells" as their opening and closing number. They made $23.25 for Goodfellows.
From left, postal employee Robert Hearn and Cub Scouts Jack Buckingham, Dick Bernstein, Tony Costanza and Steve Dabbs in December 1963. Their Scout troop went through the neighborhood to pick up empty bottles and cash them in. They ended up with $4.82 to give to Goodfellows. The charity has raised more than $17 million since 1945, when it started modern record-keeping.
Santa Claus gives presents to 25 children from families recommended by Goodfellows on Dec. 22, 1963, at St. Frances Cabrini Social Hall. Santa also handed out refreshments, and a magician entertained the kids at the Christmas party.
"The Beatles" Pantomime group at the World-Herald Goodfellows Show Wagon at Ralston City Park in June 1965.
Little Debbie occupies much of her time in playing with her pet white mouse, Frosty, in December 1968.
The Goodfellows provides a merry Christmas. Here a grocer is shown delivering a basket of food to a needy family on Dec. 24, 1968.
Nicky is a clown of sorts. The toddler can make his older brothers and sisters laugh just by strutting around the room with a toy pig. “He’s such a happy baby,” his mother said. “He’s laughing and smiling all the time.” Photo from December 1969.
Optician McCain fits Alan for a brighter Christmas in December 1974.
Winter does not pity the poor. The parents of Margaret, Elana and Leroy were aware of that, and they also knew the family's meager income would not provide for adequate winter clothing for their children.
Latasha Johnson pictured on Dec. 25, 1975.
Tracy, 4, is just at the age when Christmas starts to mean a lot. "I haven't got any money for anything, and that's the truth." There's no reason to doubt that comment from Tracy's mother, who is a widow. Photo from December 1975.
Lou Sortino and sons Mike and Louis Jr. pick Christmas trees on Dec. 9, 1976. Each year about 20 to 30 Christmas trees ended up being wasted at Sortino's West L Fruit Market. So this year, owner Lou, along with Louis Jr. and Mike came up with a better idea. "The boys happened to see a story in the newspaper about a family who will be receiving help from the Goodfellows," said Sortino. "The woman said she might not have money to buy a tree for her family, and that got us thinking." The Sortinos picked out enough Christmas trees for that family and all the ones who are featured in The World-Herald's Goodfellows stories through Christmas. Bekins Moving and Storage Co., 1601 Leavenworth St., has volunteered to deliver the trees in time for Christmas.
Daddy’s health is a concern to Jimmy. “The way things are, we might not be together for too many holidays and we want them good while we’re together.” That’s the way Jimmy’s mother feels about Christmas. But this holiday may not be so good for her son, 4, and daughter, Colleen, 20 months.
Robert and Kimberly are looking for help in this photo from Nov. 29, 1976. Robert's mother is having a hard enough time making ends meet without having to worry about what she will serve her family on Christmas Day.
From left, Karen Furey, Mary Kay Kaczmarek, Kelly McGill, Margie Honz and Cathy Schenkelberg on Dec. 17, 1978. Margie Honz and Nancy Furey of Roncalli High School started putting classmates in chains this week to help free needy families from hunger. It’s a community service project,” said Sister Jean Morrow, who oversees the chain-building. “Goodfellows seemed the right cause.”
From left, Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Thomas. The truckers were glowing almost as rosily as their Christmas tree Friday night at Omaha Country Club, collecting the last of their yearly gift to hand over to Goodfellows today. The tree was peppered with lights, mostly red, each bulb fixed in place by a donating member of the Nebraska Motor Carriers Association.
It's a sparse Christmas at Brian's house. His mother, Susan's, parents live in Des Moines and other relatives also live there. Her folks probably will send her something for her two children.
Christmas is bright for Nicky, 5, and Joey, 6 months, on Dec. 24, 1982. Gifts from Manley Church can be seen in the foreground.
Dustin doesn't understand bills. Photo from November 1982.
School district staffer Susan Meyers and student assistant David Biggs, 11, sort donated coats on Dec. 21, 1988. The clothing program has received more than 2,300 requests this year. For more than 15 years, the Omaha school district and the World-Herald Good Fellows have combined efforts to help needy children dress warmly.
Brandy, left, and Tony on Nov. 27, 1989.
Beulah is still making music in this photo from December 1989.
Millard North Middle School student council members count Goodfellows donations in 1989. From left, standing: Jason Bisbee, David Allen, Kathy Kearns and Jenny Underwood; seated: Jami Rossitto, Lynn Welch and John Miller.
Westside Middle School collected $2,015.50 for Goodfellows. Student Council President Jeremy Tworek presents the gift to Terry Ausenbaugh of The World-Herald on Dec. 23, 1991.
Thia donation from the "Boys on the Road" came in 10 envelopes in December 1991. Goodfellows officials said they don't know how the donation got into the World-Herald building.
Tessie pictured in December 1991. "I just don't feel sorry for myself."
Dennis Burr, age 4, in December 1992.
Jessica Toney in November 1994.
A fifth and sixth grade class at Karen Western Elementary School collected 13,000 pennies for Goodfellows in December 1994. From left to right are Jeff Viola, April Basile and Heather Juntunen.
The Zinn family. This picture ran in The World-Herald on Nov. 21, 1995.
Anna Tapley, a 75-year-old grandmother, raising granddaughter Shardy. This picture ran in The World-Herald on Dec. 4, 1996.