Glotzbah has passion for promoting hometown, heritage

George Glotzbach
wears his Bavarian vest and hat as he proudly holds the German-American Friendship Award given to him by the German ambassador and the Telly trophy he received for the best production of a family genealogy and history video. Photo by Steve Palmer

To say that George Glotzbach, 86, wears the unofficial hat of publicity ambassador for the city of New Ulm might be an understatement.

After all, he’s worn so many hats they almost all can’t be counted in his ongoing mission to promote New Ulm’s German-American heritage.

In New Ulm there’s numerous yearly celebrations or festivals, and it’s not unusual to find George connected to an event from behind the scenes in one way or another.

To understand George’s passion in promoting New Ulm is to learn something about his ancestors’ history who planted their roots in the area back when the community was founded in the mid 1800s.

George was born in 1931, the son of Linus C. and Lucille Glotzbach. He’s a descendant of John Glotzbach, born in 1832 in Buttlar, Saxony, who immigrated to America in 1853, the year before New Ulm was founded.

A number of Brown County’s “firsts” are connected with his family. George’s great-great-grandfather Christian Adams, drown in 1856 in the Cottonwood River near New Ulm, and his estate was the first probate case recorded in Brown County.  He was the first settler of the territory to die in Brown County.

George said his widowed great-great-grandmother, Petronella, remarried a year later which was the first one recorded in Brown County.

Fast forward to the Depression years of the 1930s, and George’s father, Linus, became the Southwest Minnesota District Works Progress Administration director in 1935 under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Soon he became the state director and in 1940, was promoted to the regional director position that covered several Midwest states.

As George grew up during that time he became aware of his German heritage and proud of his ancestors’ contributions to New Ulm. At a young age, his interest in history began when his parents would tell him about the “good ol’ days.” Some of his fond memories include watching the many parades that would go through downtown on Minnesota Street.

“When I started school in 1936, most kids spoke only German. But the teacher told them we only teach in English, and you’ll just have to learn,” George recalled.  He began high school in New Ulm but then his family followed with his father’s work career, and they moved to St. Paul.  George graduated from the St. Thomas Military Academy in 1949 and attended St. Thomas College but later transferred to the University of Minnesota, finishing with a degree in business finance administration in 1953.

“I joined everything while in college,” George said. It was an indication of what was to come next in his life.

He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1953 and served as adjutant for the 6580th Guided Missile Squadron where testing was done at Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, N.M. from 1954-56.

As chief record keeper at the base he said one of the duties assigned to him was being the trial council for airmen’s court cases. “For six months as the prosecutor I never lost a case.  But then when I became defense council for the base I never won one,” he smiled.

George then became officer-in-charge of top secret documents at the Anchorage Courier Transfer Station at Elmendore AFB in Alaska from 1956-57 before his discharge from military service.

He went on to a successful business career in sales and as an executive for insurance companies all across the country in cities like Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Baltimore, plus a few challenging years in between as an entrepreneur before finally settling in Santa Fe, N.M., where he helped start the town’s first Octoberfest celebration.

After retiring and being away from New Ulm for over 60 years, George made a big turn in his life and headed north to return to his hometown in 2003.

To New Ulm’s benefit he quickly immersed himself into the fabric of the community. As a volunteer he said he usually gets more out of it than he puts into it, although there are many who know the importance of his contributions for getting things done on various projects or events.

George explained his zeal for promoting New Ulm, either through celebrations, with public relations or special community projects. “I’ve always been a happy joiner,” he said. “It’s a natural thing for me to be involved in New Ulm’s activities. We have so much to offer here and so many are appreciative.  Volunteering quickly got me into the culture of New Ulm again when I moved back here.”

Wherever he’s lived during his professional business career he’s involved himself by supporting numerous activities and offered his positive life experiences to others in the community.

Among those experiences he’s been a part of were alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City, N.J., in 1964, board member for Wildlife Forever in Minneapolis, board member for Phi Kappa Foundation in Indianapolis, observer for the national weather service in Santa Fe, N.M., and he won the shortwave radio Romania International “Romania 2000 – Spiritual Space” competition.

After all that maybe he wouldn’t have time for his beloved hobbies that included reading, old cars, history, genealogy and cycling. But George pedaled his bike hard for nearly 40 years and figures he cycled more than 80,000 miles.

As an avid cyclist he won four medals at New Mexico’s Sr. Olympics in 1998. He also placed in the top 30 for his age bracket in the National Senior Games in Orlando, Fla.

A year after he returned to New Ulm he biked 3,267 miles in 2004 during a year that included riding across the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge to Napa Valley in California plus a trail ride in Washington state and rode several more trails in Minnesota.

However, his bike riding days came to an abrupt end a few years ago when he had a serious bike crash in New Ulm that left him with several broken bones.

In New Ulm he served as chair of the Wanda Gag Collection Committee in 2008 and spent five years traveling and collecting what he could about the famed New Ulm artist and author. He’s donated numerous prints, pencil drawings and lithographs to the Brown County Historical Society Museum.

On behalf of the citizens of New Ulm he also donated an original Wanda Gag lithograph called Squash and Flowers to the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany. For his overall efforts he received a Citation of Merit from the Steuben Society of America in 2016, which is awarded to a person who best contributes to the positive view of German-American people.  He’s most proud of the German-American Friendship Award presented to him by the ambassador of Germany to America in 2015 recognizing his work in fostering and sustaining friendship between the two countries.

Another prestigious honor he’s received is the national Telly Award in 1999 from Avista Video Histories in Albuquerque, N.M., which produced George’s historical story he wrote from research about his family. “I recall spending about three months typing the script and working on the video project. It’s kind of like winning an Oscar,” he joked.

Among some of the other notable New Ulm achievements and recent activities he’s been involved with finds that George has chaired the Monuments and Cemetery Commission, led fundraising efforts to restore the Hermann Monument, co-chaired several city parades, researched New Ulm’s German prisoners of war in 1943, authored a pair of books, chaired the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee and was chosen Tourism Person of the Year in 2016.

George says at age 86 he’s got so much going on that he sometimes feels like he’s living his life out of a file drawer. “But you have to be organized to do all of this,” he said. He mentioned the recent German-American Octoberfest that he helped promote as one of the biggest ones held in New Ulm.

“I feel that my life is now a collection of all the experiences and lessons learned that I hope is useful as an active member to support the efforts of so many groups and organizations that makes New Ulm special,” he said.

A 2000 census confirmed that New Ulm had the highest percentage of German-Americans in the country at 67 percent. George believes the community must continue to embrace the heritage and keep that identity for the next generation. “It shouldn’t be given up,” he said.  “That’s why I’m involved to try to get people to learn about their past and present and be prepared going forward.”

George sat in his spacious home office and looked around at the numerous awards, mementos and history books and said: “I love life, and I love this town so much. I’ll just keep at it with my volunteering until I know I shouldn’t be doing it or I can’t do it any more.”