Jack Lutz, 92, educator in U.S., Africa, Poland

Posted: July 03, 2014

JACK LUTZ didn't know how to quit.

After serving as an educator all over the world - Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Poland - he was teaching cartooning at an adult learning center.

In fact, he was preparing a lesson plan for the course when he died June 29 at age 92. He lived in Mount Laurel, N.J.

"He would exhaust you and me and five other people," said his son, Barry Lutz. "He didn't sleep."

After 30 years in Africa, and pushing 70, Jack decided to join the Peace Corps and taught college in Poland for several more years. He was so popular that when he was ready to leave, the college pleaded with him to stay, and he remained there two more years.

Jack's remarkable life included nearly dying twice of malaria, being roughed up by Nigerian bandits, being made an honorary chief by the Urhobo tribe in Nigeria, hanging out with Haile Selassie, befriending the Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila, playing poker with Pierce Brosnan (he claimed that Brosnan owed him $50 in poker winnings), doing a comedy routine on local TV, and marrying a Fulbright Scholar from the Philippines.

He was an Army Air Corps veteran of World War II.

Jack, born in Allentown and raised in Philadelphia, started out wanting to be a vaudeville performer. He did a "chalk-talk" routine, mixing cartoons with funny patter. He took the act around the East Coast and appeared on TV stations hungry for audience-pleasing shows in the early stages of the new medium.

Jack graduated from Northeast High School.

At 18, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in the Aleutian Islands, checking out bombers before missions, and serving in Special Services as a DJ and announcer on Armed Forces Radio.

After the war, Jack went to Temple University under the GI Bill, received a bachelor's in education, and began teaching at the Robert Morris School in Brewerytown.

He then joined the Plymouth-Whitemarsh School District as principal of three elementary schools. He also supervised the construction of four more schools to serve the swelling population of that region.

Jack also was in charge of hiring new teachers and was aggressive in finding the best.

During this period, he earned a Ph.D. in education from Temple University.

He taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Glassboro State College - now Rowan University - before going overseas under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and becoming headmaster of the American Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Jack arrived in Nigeria for the United Nations in the wake of the Biafran War of 1967-70, in which more than a million civilians died of starvation and the schools were wrecked. His job was to help rebuild the schools.

He helped create the College of Education in Abraka, Nigeria, now one of Africa's largest universities. He later went to Sierra Leone, where he helped create an education school in Bumbuna.

While in Africa, he became seriously ill with malaria.

"I got a call to come pick up his body," Barry said. "But when I got to the hospital, he was sitting up and flirting with the nurses."

Jack was roughed up by Nigerian bandits who broke into his house and held him at gunpoint.

"We begged him to retire, to come to someplace safer," Barry said. "He said he would do nothing of the sort. He would leave when he felt like leaving."

Jack was named honorary chief by the Urhobo people with an appropriate ceremony. Some Nigerians attended his funeral.

Movie director Bruce Beresford went to Nigeria in 1980 to film "Mister Johnson," starring Pierce Brosnan. The movie takes place in colonial Nigeria in 1923.

Jack was hired to act as stand-in for actor Edward Woodward, and Jack and Brosnan became drinking and poker buddies.

Jack also became friendly with the late Haile Selassie, when he was emperor of Ethiopia, and helped to have a gym in Addis Ababa named for Abebe Bikila, a two-time Olympic marathon champion, who was in a wheelchair after an injury.

After leaving Africa in 1996, Jack became one of the oldest members of the Peace Corps. He taught at a college in Nowy Sacz, Poland.

While working in Nigeria, he met Paz Concepcion, a Fulbright Scholar from the Philippines who was teaching in Nigeria and later served with Jack in the Peace Corps in Poland. They were married in 1984.

Back in the U.S., Jack remained active in education, serving on the Temple Alumni Association board, and teaching in the New Jersey Education Department's mentorship program at Adath Emanuel's Lifelong Learning Center in Mount Laurel. He was president of Congregation Or Ami and executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Burlington County.

Jack's father, Harry Lutz, was an immigrant from Russia. His mother, Reba Feinstein, was from Cardiff, Wales.

His father ran one of Philadelphia's first gasoline service stations, at Pratt and Akron streets in Frankford, at a time when gasoline was pumped into glass bottles before being inserted into vehicles. Jack worked there for a time.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by another son, Philip Lutz; a brother, Ralph Lutz; and five grandchildren.

Services: Were yesterday. Burial will be in the military cemetery at Fort Dix, N.J.

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