Pribanic died three weeks before his 109th birthday
Former Dover resident John Pribanic Sr., who was born before the sinking of the RMS Titanic and during the presidency of William Howard Taft, died May 31, 2018, in Millsboro at the age of 108.
Pribanic was profiled June 28, 2015, in the Dover Post on the occasion of his 106th birthday, and we are republishing that story in his memory:
The state does not keep lists of its longest-lived citizens, but if there were such a list, no doubt Dover’s John Pribanic would be up near the top.
Pribanic celebrated his 106th birthday June 22, the guest of honor at a party thrown by the staff and fellow residents of State Street Assisted Living. He moved there from his home in Pennsylvania to be closer to his son, Tom Pribanic of Camden.
His dad, Tom said, is doing amazingly well.
“He’s got a real good attitude, and he’s just enjoying every day,” Tom said. “All of the residents there are a part of his family, and that’s what keeps him going.”
Born in 1909 in the small settlement of Zdenac, a part of the village of Tounj in Croatia, Ivan Pribanić arrived at Ellis Island in the arms of his mother, Ana, on Sept. 17, 1912. His father, Franjo Pribanić, had emigrated to the United States in March 1909, three months before his son’s birth.
The couple Anglicized their first names to Frank and Anna and moved to Allegheny County, Pa.; Ivan became John and by 1924 had been joined in succession by brothers Joseph, Frank, Thomas, and George, and sister Annie.
“My father came to America to better himself,” Pribanic said. “He had a piece of land. They’d work it during the spring and summer, and live off what they grew in the fall and winter.
“They had no money.”
Pribanic quit school in the ninth grade, going to work to help his family.
“I figured I had eight years of education and I didn’t need anymore,” he said. Pribanic started out as a laborer at Westinghouse near Pittsburgh but was laid off during the Depression.
He found work during construction of the Montgomery Locks and Dam on the Ohio River and in coke plants in nearby Midland, Pa.
Pribanic worked eight hours a day, earning 25 cents an hour, or about $10 a week. He paid $1.10 for room and board and dutifully turned over the rest to his family.
During this time, he met the former Pauline Wasko; married in 1940, they raised two sons, Tom and John, and remained together until her death in 1994.
Eventually, Pribanic returned to the Westinghouse Corp., working as an engraver and machinist. During World War II, he contributed to the construction of the world’s first industrial particle accelerator, later used as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.
Pribanic retired after serving with Westinghouse for more than 45 years.
At State Street, he has a daily routine that starts at 5 a.m. He spends time with visitors and other residents, and exercises by pushing himself around in his wheelchair. The latter is a recent acquisition, made necessary only after Pribanic suffered a fall last year and was forced to curtail his daily walks.
Although she has known Pribanic only a year, Karen Hickman, recreation director, says he is a man whose temperament and spirituality make him a delight to be around.
“He’s a man who lives his faith,” Hickman said. “There’s never a day where he doesn’t bring an uplifting word to someone. It’s just his way of life.
“He’s a true, true gentleman.”
Even though he was naturalized as a child, Pribanic is immensely proud of his Old World heritage. He still speaks Croatian and is a member of Croatian Union of America, which was founded only 14 years before he was born.
“I’m 100 percent American, but Croatian is the language my mother and father spoke,” he said. “I’m an American first and a Croat second.”
How did you, your parents, brothers, and sister survive during the Great Depression?
In Croatia, my father worked on a farm and learned to live off the land. During the Depression, we were never hungry. We had chickens, cows, and pigs. It wasn’t easy sometimes, but my mother always managed to put a meal on the table.
What do you do to keep your mind sharp?
I like to listen to the news, and I read the newspapers. I’ve always been interested in politics. I’m interested in who is running my government.
Do you have a favorite sports team?
I’m a baseball fan; I played baseball in school. I like the Pittsburgh Pirates; they are the best. They’ve been around about 100 years; they were good back then, and they’re good now.
Looking back, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I’m not sorry for anything I’ve done. I’m more sorry for things that I could have done but didn’t.
After all these years, do you have a philosophy of life?
You never give up. You struggle, and you don’t look back. You look forward because you’ll always go further.