Laura J. Prendergast


ARLINGTON - Laura Jane (Novotny) Prendergast, 99, formerly of Princeton and Arlington, died Jan. 3, 2021 in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. PST (1 p.m. Central) on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Rancho Palos Verdes, with Rev. Bernard Kalu officiating. The Mass will be accessible by livestream at https://livestream.com/stjohnfisher/special and in the special events archive after the event. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery, Arlington, preceded by Mass at St. Louis Catholic Church, Princeton, on dates to be determined. Arrangements are being made by Lighthouse Memorials, Torrance, Calif. and Norberg Funeral Home, Princeton.

Laura was born May 20, 1921 in Tama, Iowa, the youngest of seven children of Bertha Anna Schultz (Sulc) and Edward Novotny, a switchman for the Northwestern and Chicago Milwaukee Railroads junction. She married James Drummer Prendergast, son of Margaret and William Prendergast of rural LaMoille on Aug. 21, 1948 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Arlington. He preceded her in death.

Survivors include two daughters, Dr. Susan P. (William) Schoelwer of Washington, D.C. and Sheila A. (David) Bloodgood of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; five grandchildren, Margaret Susan Schoelwer of San Francisco, Calif., William James (Melissa) Schoelwer of Charlottesville, VA; Jennifer Laura Schoelwer of Washington, D.C. and Ryan James and Patrick Thomas Bloodgood, both of Rancho Palos Verdes; and three great-grandchildren, Vivian Jane, William Joseph, and James Henry Schoelwer of Charlottesville.

She was preceded in death by her husband; six siblings, Mildred Violet Burn, Joseph George Novotny, Marie Bertha Hanke, Margaret Estella Green, Elizabeth Novotny and Grace Dorothy Hurt; two nephews and a niece. 

Following graduation from Tama High School, Laura landed a job with the local newspaper, where a colleague encouraged her to apply for University of Iowa scholarship. She graduated with a BA in English in 1944, becoming the first in her family to achieve a college degree. During World War II, she worked in the secretarial pool at Consolidated Vultee Aircraft, which was producing B-29 bombers in Tucson, Ariz., and then for the U.S. Navy at Terminal Island in Long Beach, Calif. When she came to LaMoille to teach high school English and history, she was introduced to Jim Prendergast by his sister, Jane, the home economics teacher. After a wedding trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota, the couple settled briefly in Champaign-Urbana while Jim finished his degree. His jobs took them to Detroit, Mich. and Quincy before landing in the new, planned Chicago suburb of Park Forest, where Laura taught elementary school. In 1955, they moved to a farm on the outskirts of Arlington, gradually restoring the Victorian house built by the town’s founder, Michael Kennedy. Laura taught school in Malden and Van Orin, before earning a certificate in library science and becoming the school librarian in LaMoille. Moving to Princeton in 1982, the couple enjoyed a thriving enterprise renovating more than a dozen distinguished older homes.

Among her many interests, Laura especially loved books, music, gardening and antiquing. She operated Village Antiques and Books for more than four decades with shops at Dover Homestead Farms and several locations in Princeton. In later years, she re-focused the business to online bookselling. She sang in the choir at St. Patrick’s Church in Arlington, treated herself to a grand piano, and in her 70s adventurously took up playing violin. She researched several lines of family history and genealogy, compiled a volume of favorite recipes and composed a vivid memoir, “Smalltown Girl: Memories of an Iowa Childhood.”

Memorials may be directed to St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA; St. Louis Catholic Church, Princeton, IL; Catholic Relief Services; or Seedlings Braille Books for Children.

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