The Road to Happiness: Catching Up With PGP and "Deltasig for Life" Dick Parnitzke

Feb 15, 2019 – 1983-85 Grand President Richard "Dick" Parnitzke learned some "hugely important managerial skills" as a Deltasig.
A purchasing and engineering specialist who understood the key to success was "knowing how to inspire creative teamwork," he used these talents in Deltasig leadership roles while enjoying a successful 31 years at GM. 

Ask Richard J. ("Dick") Parnitzke to tell you what it's like to work for decades in the U.S. auto industry, and the former Chevrolet tooling manager will reply with a single word: 


Then, after thinking for a moment: 

"I mean, really tough! If you can't handle the workload and the pressure, you won't last. Period. You're done!" 

He's not kidding, either. Ask this feisty, 77-year-old retiree (since 1995) for a compelling example of the psychological toll on production managers, and he'll tell you how he once worked 93 days in a row - many of them including overtime - while fending off numerous attacks of brain-numbing exhaustion. 

Then, to underline his point, he'll launch the chilling saga of a "brutal shutdown" that took place in Muskegon, Michigan, auto parts tool producing shop during the 1970s era. "I was working at a Chevrolet plant in upstate New York, and I was part of a team that did the yearly retooling for engine components," says the highly voluble Parnitzke, a Buffalo native who spent most of his career working at several General Motors facilities in the region. 

"In that kind of operation, timing is everything... and you have to make sure you get all the retooling done by early March, so you can have everything up and running in May when the yearly auto-manufacturing cycle begins. Trust me: those deadlines were tight! But we always managed to make it in time - until one particular winter in the seventies, when we ran into a problem we couldn't anticipate."

That problem, Parnitzke explained, had cropped up in the West Michigan city of Muskegon... where an auto tooling vendor who was supposed to be ramping up a new line of engine equipment kept calling GM's Buffalo office and asking for "permission to bill for ever-increasing amounts of overtime."

"This was a multi-million dollar job," Parnitzke growled during a recent interview. "But the calls for more and more overtime kept coming in... and the Muskegon vendor kept telling us he was running into 'issues' that required his people to work at night and on the weekends."

This pattern continued - until his boss said: "Something smells here. Something's not right. I don't feel comfortable with this." In the end, the worried boss instructed his lieutenant to "fly to Muskegon and find out what the hell's going on!"

Deeply alarmed by now, Parnitzke boarded the next flight to the Wolverine State. "I flew in there on Saturday night," he remembers, "and by seven o'clock the next morning, I'm standing at the door of this company."

"Here comes the superintendent. He sees me and he turns pale as a sheet! Oh, boy! So we go in there to review what they were doing. We walk out on the shop floor and it was instantly clear that what they had up on their machinery was a huge job for our biggest competitor!" 

Parnitzke couldn't believe his eyes. And he didn't hesitate. After taking a series of photos designed to document the obvious swindle, he raced back to the airport. "What they had been doing was totally unethical," he says today. "This supplier had been charging us for a considerable amount of overtime - while working on a competitor's tooling! Well, we pulled the job out of there, and they soon went bankrupt. Because the word gets around real quick in the auto industry on who you give work to and who you don't." 

He paused. He growled again. Then: "As I said, this is a very tough business. And those guys in Muskegon were done!" 

Looking back on his long and successful career as a purchasing and engineering specialist at General Motors, the now retired Parnitzke is quick to credit the Fraternity with helping him to "both survive and thrive" in the dog-eat-dog world of auto manufacturing. 

"I first joined the Alpha Kappa chapter of Delta Sigma Pi as a 'night school' student at the State University of New York at Buffalo [aka "SUNY Buffalo"]."

"That was back in the winter of 1971," recalls the easygoing and laughter-loving Parnitzke - who would himself become Grand President of the Fraternity only twelve years later. 

"What happened was that we had a break in the middle of a class, and one of the other students walked up to me and handed me a brochure. I took it home and looked through it. Right away, it seemed pretty clear that joining the Fraternity would pay big dividends, because I'd be able to benefit from the mentoring provided by older members who'd been through the grind and knew what it takes to succeed in the world of business."

And that's precisely what happened. For Parnitzke, the grandson of a Prussian-German immigrant and the son of a Buffalo blue-collar worker, who would battle his way into the American middle class by often working 12 hours a day for weeks at a time in the thundering inferno of a never-silent auto assembly lines, becoming a Deltasig was a key step on the road to financial and social success. 

"There's no doubt that I got a huge amount of help from the older members," says Parnitzke. "Several of them became my mentors over the years, and they never stopped trying to ease my path and sharpen my business skills. They were a big part of my success, because they really cared about me. I've never forgotten this one night when an older member who was a former Grand President - Frank Tober [Franklin A. Tober, 1961-63] - and I went out for a beer after a meeting at Alpha Kappa. We sat down together at the bar, and he looked at me and then he predicted that I, too, would someday serve as a Grand President."

Amazed, Parnitzke nearly fell off his bar stool. "I asked him why he thought that, and he told me he could see that I really liked the emphasis on teamwork and cooperation and finding creative solutions to problems - all of which were at the heart of the Deltasig vision of service. He told me these were the hallmarks of leadership as a Deltasig. Well, he was right! During the past 47 years, I've served as a Grand President, a Regional Director, a District Director and a Trustee of the Leadership Foundation... and the thing I've always liked most about those jobs was working with the young people."

"I think I learned early on that Fraternity leadership isn't about you - it's about helping the younger members to thrive and enjoy success in their careers, while also enjoying the friendships and the camaraderie that are an essential part of life as a Deltasig." 

It was the most devastating telephone call that Dick Parnitzke would ever receive. He still remembers the moment when he picked up the phone and said hello. The voice on the other end belonged to a corporate security officer who qickly told him that his beloved wife Jackie had just been killed in an auto accident. "I got that call at 9:22 in the morning, on the first of October in 1992, and my world changed forever. Jackie and I had been married for 29 years, and we had two wonderful daughters. She was my best friend and we'd been close pals ever since way back when we were in the third grade together at Public School 63 in Buffalo. That call shattered my world, and rebuilding it wasn't easy."

But he did it. While reaching for a lot more of the toughness and tenacity that had defined his long career at GM, Parnitzke gradually began to heal from the disaster. And once again, his buddies at Delta Sigma Pi were standing by, ready to help in any way they could. "Those are some of the finest guys I've ever known," he says with a tremor in his voice. "Some of them have been playing poker on a regular basis for more than 40 years now. And even though I'm retired and living in [a suburb of Phoenix] Arizona now, we still get together whenever I'm back in upstate New York. Frank Tober was right - in the end, those friendships and those wise mentors I found at the Fraternity were crucially in helping me meet the challenges of life, both personally and professionally."

After remarrying and moving to the desert southwest with his second wife, Carol Diane Lutgen - a "wonderfully supportive and loving helpmate" who often joins him in performing church-related volunteer work around Phoenix - the indestructible Parnitzke would begin enjoying a second exciting career... as a passionate genealogist who loves to do research on family histories. 

He would also set down many of his thoughts as a Deltasig who's always been deeply interested in helping younger members thrive in their professional lives. 

So there he is. A survivor. A dedicated husband, father, grandfather... and a loyal friend to his pals of more than 40 years at Alpha Kappa in Buffalo. 

Richard J. Parnitzke… An ideal brother! A true Deltasig!!! 
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