Lee County Biography

E. C. Reitz


"He is a fighter and does things!" These words have almost passed into a proverb in their frequent application to Prof. E. C. Reitz of Missoula, the interesting subject of this brief review. And they have sprung, in their reference to him, out of his well-known habit of acting on conviction in every case, and putting all his forces at work to accomplish the end he aims at. He is not whimsical or fanatical, but a man with a high and stern sense of duty, guided by integrity and the most earnest desire to do all he can for the benefit of his fellow men of every class and condition; and as his ideals are lofty, and his springs of action intense, he leaves no stone unturned in his efforts to carry out his views. Men have reviled him and called him unsavory names, but no opposition, and especially no abuse, has ever deterred him from his purposes, and that is one thing even his bitterest opponents always give him credit for. They know he is honest and consistent in his efforts to make the community around him as clean and pure as possible, and they esteem him for the inflexible determination with which he continues his work in this behalf, even though he sometimes runs against a pet desire of their own.

Professor Reitz was born in Dixon, Lee county, Illinois, on August 3, 1864, and is a son of Conrad and Elizabeth (Keller) Reitz, natives of Pennsylvania, early emigrants to Illinois and pioneers in Iowa. They are now living at Maxwell, Story county, in that state, retired from active pursuits, the former aged seventy-one and the latter seventy-two years of age. On November 29, 1911, they celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding, and the celebration was a "golden wedding" in fact for their hosts of friends who had the pleasure of attending it.

Conrad Reitz, the professor's father, the place of whose nativity is Somerset county, Pennsylvania, has been, in many respects, a remarkable man. He has tried his hand in various lines of productive enterprise and succeeded well in them all. For many years he was a mechanic and wrought laboriously and faithfully at his trade. Then he turned his attention to farming, and in this he was a leader in his locality and one of the most prosperous men engaged in the industry there. After that he became a merchant, and his triumphs in merchandising were no less signal and substantial than those he won in other departments of work. He moved to Illinois when he was a young man, and in 1870, when the pioneer days were still lingering in some parts of Iowa, he located in Boone county in that state, where frontier conditions still largely obtained. His high character, great energy and foresight and other masterful natural attributes made him successful in all his undertakings in spite of the fact that he had but a limited education from the schools.

Professor Reitz was educated in the public schools of Iowa and at Keokuk College in that state. He afterward pursued a course of special training for business and in penmanship at the Gem City Commercial College in Quincy, Illinois, from which he was graduated in 1890. While attending this school he was also actively engaged in managing his father's farm. It is easy to conclude that his duties in his dual engagements at this time were burdensome, but that was a matter of no special consequence to him, as, even at his age at that time, he was a person of prodigious energy, with capacity for carrying on several lines of work at once.

In 1891 the professor formed a partnership with one of his schoolmates, and together they taught penmanship in Illinois and Iowa for several months. In September of the same year he entered Zanerian Art College in Columbus, Ohio, the only pen-art school in the world, and at the same time began special studies in English in the Thompson English Training School in Columbus. The next year he became a teacher in that school and also gave instructions in the army barracks in the city. This year, 1892, he completed his course in the Zanerian Art College and received his diploma from it as a graduate in all its departments.

Professor Reitz then came to Montana and located in Anaconda. He conducted a private school there for a few months, during which he visited Missoula to look over the field with a view to finding a suitable place for a permanent residence and the establishment of his business. In 1893 he returned to Boone, Iowa, and was married to Miss Laura B. Thompson, who was a school teacher in that city, having gone there from her native state, Indiana. He brought his bride to Anaconda, and continued teaching his private school there until June, the end of the term, when he moved to Missoula.

Some weeks after his arrival in this city to remain, he opened a private school here with no capital but ability, both natural and acquired, energy that stopped at no obstacle, and honesty of purpose that has never wavered in the slightest degree. In October, 1903, he started the Garden City Commercial College, and conducted it on the third floor of the First National Bank building until sometime in 1904, when he moved it into the building it now occupies, which he had erected for the purpose. The building is an imposing and attractive one, a credit to Missoula in its architectural features, and as completely equipped as a commercial college as any in the country, if it does not surpass them all in this respect. Here is a manifestation of progress from a humble start to a splendid and far-famed institution, and its achievement is altogether due to the arduous and self-denying labor of Professor Reitz and his highly accomplished wife. She has been the teacher of the shorthand department in the school since they started life together, and deserves fully one-half of the credit for their success in their useful undertaking. They have two children, their son, Zaner Walter, now aged eighteen years, and their daughter, Edith Alpha, aged twelve at the time of this writing (1912).

Professor Reitz has been an active and helpful factor in the progress and development of the city and county of .Missoula. He has stood for a clean town, believing that he was in some measure responsible for the moral as well as the educational welfare of his pupils. Missoula, like most other western cities, has at times been wide open, and many and bitter have been the contests over this feature of its life. Professor Reitz has always clamored for the strict enforcement of the law, and has fought for it through peace and through turbulence, continuing his efforts in the face of the most violent opposition, and when failure seemed inevitable. For he is one of the men who never give up, and only unlimbers his full battery at such critical times as would drive weaker men from the field, and he has done much to make the city orderly and law-abiding.

He is a fighter and does things. When the bridge from the north to the south side of the river was swept away, on the 7th day of June, 1908, and the people were obliged to go three miles around to get across, the city had no money to build even a temporary structure. The city council could do nothing, as it had no funds. He took the matter up, and in a few hours raised $1,100 for the erection of a new bridge, which he swelled to $6,000 within the next few weeks. He then received bids, awarded the contract for the building of the bridge, gave bonds as guarantees of good faith and supervised the work of construction. The bridge was completed and opened for traffic and turned over to the city council free fr om debt. More than to any other one man is Missoula indebted to him for speedy relief from a great inconvenience at the time, and for a permanent improvement of great value in this matter.

Professor Reitz yielded to the importunities of his friends sometime ago and started an enterprise in the coal trade. The Garden City Commercial College Coal Company is the result, and from it the people are always sure to get full weight, the exact quality promised and prompt deliveries at the most reasonable cost to them. Professor Reitz believes firmly that honesty in business will be as successful, not only in the long run, but all the time, as any other course in mercantile dealings, and he conducts the affairs of this coal company on that basis. He applies the same rule to every thing connected with his school, and parents have always felt that their children were in safe hands when under his control. For they know him to be a man of the strictest integrity and uprightness in every relation of life, and zealous in inculcating his principles in all who receive his tuition. Missoula has no better or more useful citizen, and none whom the people of every grade and class hold in higher or more deserved esteem. Mr. and Mrs. Reitz are ultra religious and for many years have been members of the Brethren church, always doing all in their power to further the cause of Christianity.

[History of Montana, Volume 3, 1913, transcribed by C. Danielson]

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