If you ever met Walter Pruss in a hallway, he probably told you to "keep smiling."
The longtime City Hall gadfly and Lodi Police Partners alum died in a local hospital earlier this week, two weeks after his 89th birthday.
"I was just in shock when I found out," said Jeanie Biskup, supervisor of the police Partners program.
She got to know Pruss in 1993 when he presented the volunteer program to then-Mayor Randy Snider. Pruss saw that the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department had its S.T.A.R.S. program that allowed seniors to assist in various field and office duties and wanted Lodi to have a similar program.
"He was an original. He was in class No. 1," Biskup said.
After graduation, Pruss worked on patrol and then later with the police records clerks.
Councilman Larry Hansen, who was police chief at the time, not only remembered Pruss' hard work on the Partners program but his commitment and interest in the community.
"He was a gentleman in the way he conducted himself," he said.
He and Vice Mayor Susan Hitchcock passed their condolences onto the Pruss family before closing Wednesday's City Council meeting in his honor.
Pruss used to attend the meetings on a regular basis. In fact, he was still on the agenda mailing lists, Deputy City Clerk Jackie Taylor said.
"I remember he used to come in and ask all sorts of questions," she said.
"He was very interested in what was going on at the meetings. For awhile, he and (his wife) Janet attended every council meeting and Shirtsleeve Session."
Partner Carmen Sandmeier remembered Pruss as a kind, caring and smart man.
"He was generous, and he took his work very seriously. He was known for his honesty and was well loved," she said.
"If you needed time off, he would change his schedule to come in and work for us.
"I can't say enough about him."
Biskup, who worked with Pruss from 1993 until December when he stopped coming into the Partners office, had many a story about the Korean War veteran.
"Every time he called me in my office, and sometimes it was several times a day, he would say, 'This is Walt Pruss from the front desk,' like I had forgotten him," she quipped.
"He was always upbeat and made people laugh."
Pruss also remained supportive of the Partners program, writing letters to companies, making presentations to the community and spearheading fund-raisers, Biskup said. She never forgot his Jan. 2 birthday.
"Every time we celebrated the new year, I made sure to tell Walter, 'Happy Birthday'."
She and most of the Partners will be there Tuesday for his memorial service, scheduled for 10 a.m. in the Cherokee Memorial Park Evergreen Chapel. The remaining six members of Pruss' Partners class will be honorary pallbearers.
"He was one of the sharpest people I knew. And, he could remember anything," Biskup said, her voice cracking ever so slightly.
"I feel privileged to have know him."
Contact City Editor Jennifer Pearson Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.