Retired longtime Monroe County Treasurer Merrill Prange passed away Sunday at the age of 74 in his hometown of Fults.
Prange served 30 years as treasurer from 1978 to 2008.
Monroe County Commissioner Dennis Knobloch told the Republic-Times Prange’s time as treasurer was “the greatest gift Monroe County ever had.”
Knobloch added Prange was “very frugal” with county finances and “watched the county purse strings like they were his own. We owe him a debt of gratitude.”
The county budget in 1978 was about $2.75 million – a figure which now is nearly five times that amount. Prange also navigated a population boom of over 50 percent in Monroe County from about 20,000 residents as of the 1980 census to over 33,000 in 2010 shortly after he retired.
Current Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein – who was appointed to succeed Prange – also recognized the county’s financial growth under Prange’s tenure.
Koenigstein recalled asking Prange about a 15-year-old $10,000 certificate of deposit from the early 1990s which was still around in 2008.
Prange told Koenigstein he kept it because it was the first time he was able to make an investment deposit with county revenue.
In addition to providing successful stewardship for Monroe County finances, both Knobloch and Koenigstein said Prange helped them during their respective beginnings as county officials.
Knobloch, who was also a friend and schoolmate of Prange, became Monroe County Clerk in 1997.
He said Prange was “always a pleasure” to work with and was “very helpful in getting me grounded” at the courthouse.
Koenigstein expressed a similar perspective, saying Prange taught him “the tools of the trade as well as the tricks of the trade,” along with “advice as to how to handle situations over the years.”
Prange also made a concerted effort to make sure Monroe County’s levee districts were fiscally solvent and able to operate efficiently, Koenigstein noted.
Prange’s keen interest in levee districts stems from his status as a lifelong Fults resident – and one of the first and few to move back to the tiny town after the Flood of 1993.
“I’m not sure whether it’s honorable or stupid, but someone (had) to do it. I just don’t want to see this town die,” Prange said in a 1994 Los Angeles Times interview.
Fults was not only his home, but also a source for Prange’s enduring pastime of finding and collecting local artifacts.
While Prange admitted he always enjoyed archaeology from a young age, his local collection began after returning from service in Vietnam.
Prange, a U.S. Army veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, served from 1967 to 1970 as part of an explosive ordnance removal unit tasked with removing bombs, land mines and booby traps while in Vietnam.
During one mission, Prange stepped on a live land mine, resulting in the loss of his right foot and part of his leg.
Upon returning home to Fults, he had some free time before finding work at a Valmeyer bank.
“I was bored,” he recalled in a 2006 Republic-Times interview. “I started walking around outside my house in Fults and happened to find a couple of arrow points.”
In 1986, Prange took an interest in another part of Monroe County history when he assumed the duties of caretaker at a Fults cemetery.
He then made a mission of restoring and preserving rural, private cemeteries.
Prange kept up with artifact collecting and his cemetery work even into retirement, maintaining history of the county which he also had a hand into shepherding into the 21st Century as its treasurer.
“He will be sorely missed,” Knobloch said.
Visitation and funeral services will be held Dec. 16-17 at Quernheim Funeral Home in Waterloo. Read Prange’s full obituary by clicking here.