Remembering the life of ‘Augie’ Holtz - Titusville Herald: News

Remembering the life of ‘Augie’ Holtz

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Posted: Saturday, May 25, 2019 5:00 am

In addition to remembering the men and women of the military who died defending the United States, attendees of the Pleasantville Memorial Day service will also be reflecting back on the life of one of the borough’s most prominent residents.

The service, scheduled for Monday, is dedicated to the memory of John “Augie” Holtz, a man locally known for his extreme enthusiasm for restoring machinery from oil history. Holtz restored and maintained many such machines over his life, including several at Drake Well Museum.

A graduate of Pleasantville High School’s Class of 1946, Holtz served in the military in the Korean Conflict before getting a job at Quaker State maintaining oil engines. He worked there for 30 years, and officially retired in 1991. However, some would disagree with that assessment.

“Basically, he didn’t retire,” Drake Well Museum Curator Sue Bates said. “He just went from Quaker State to Drake Well Museum.”

Holtz’s love for oil engines kept him busy in his later years, as he turned what once was a career into a kind of high-profile hobby. On behalf of the Drake Well Museum, he pumped and helped maintain the McClintock well, which is the oldest continually producing oil well in America, according to Bates.

This was not the only well he worked on for the museum. Holtz also had a hand in restoring or maintaining numerous other pieces of machinery, including an eight horse power Reid engine made in Oil City, and the museum’s Olin engine, which was made by Titusville Iron Works.

He repaired rod lines for the museum’s central power exhibit, replaced the casing of the Drake Well replica and was a frequent participant in Engine Start Up Day and the fall Gas Up event.

“He was a vitally important volunteer,” Bates said. “A very nice man.”

One of Holtz’s largest contributions to the museum, both metaphorically and physically, is arranging the donation of a yo-yo drilling rig made by Northern Ordinance in 1949. Not only did Holtz help make the donation possible, but he also assisted in transporting it to the museum. The machine had to be moved in one piece, and weighed 14 tons, but Holtz managed to get the job done, and now, the rig is one of the museum’s “major outdoor exhibits,” according to Bates.

For his various accomplishments, Holtz was once named the museum’s volunteer of the year. In 1994, he received an Outstanding Volunteer of the Year award from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for his work at Drake Well Museum. The resolution awarding Holtz the honor gave him high praise for his contributions.

“His specialized knowledge and his commitment of skills and time (well in excess of 100 hours a year) make a significant difference at Drake Well,” the resolution reads.

However, his renown extended beyond just the museum. Holtz was also a member of the Pioneer Steam & Gas Engine Society, based out of Saegertown, and worked with the Coolspring Power Museum on more than one occasion.

“He was well-known in the gas engine community,” Bates said. “(He was) honored and respected.”

Locally, Holtz was also known for being a dedicated volunteer, though in different fields than just oil and gas. He was chairman of the Pleasantville Memorial Day Committee for around 30 years, according to current Chairman David Fish. He was also active in helping organize the Pleasantville Festival and was a Lions Club member for many years.

However, those who focus just on his volunteering service might miss out on the many smaller, but equally nice things Holtz did, according to Fish.

“There isn’t enough room to write about the wonderful things he did for people,” he said.

One particular incident that sticks out in Fish’s mind is Holtz’s support for Margaret “Peggy” Berry, another member of the Pleasantville Memorial Day Committee. Fish said that when Peggy Berry’s husband, Jim Berry, died, Holtz was “instrumental” in helping her through the grief.

“That was just one of the many things he did,” Fish said. “If anyone needed something, he would be there.”

Later in life, Holtz was forced to slow down his activities as age took its toll. Fish said he vividly remember how upset Holtz sounded when he said he could no longer be on the committee. After 28 years in a very active retirement, Holtz died on Feb. 7 of this year, at the age of 90.

“Humanity has lost a wonderful man,” Fish said of Holtz’s death.

While many at Monday’s service will likely remember Holtz for his work in the community, there will be at least one man remembering Holtz in a different light. Not just as a tireless volunteer, but as dear old dad.

Augie Holtz’s son, also named John Holtz, will be among those in attendance at the event, alongside many other members of his family. To John Holtz, his father is comparatively much more down to Earth than many others may think of him.

“Being his son, he just seemed like dad to me,” John Holtz said. “He wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I think that is probably also true because during the times I was at home, he was working.”

Although John Holtz can’t deny that his father’s enthusiasm for oil engines (Telling The Herald that Augie Holtz once said he has “oil in his blood”), he was largely unaware of what his dad was working on.

“Unfortunately, since he was pretty modest, there was a lot of things he may have told me about that I forgot,” John Holtz said. According to him, Augie holtz didn’t like to tout his own achievements very often, only occasionally mentioning whatever project he was presently working on.

Indeed, John Holtz found himself surprised when he began looking through his father’s papers after his death and discovered many accomplishments he either didn’t remember or wasn’t told about, and he’s glad that an event like Monday’s service will let more people know about his work.

“It’s a nice reminder for me and my other siblings, but I think it’s also good for the community to hear about the good news,” he said. “That there are people who devote their time and energy work on the good things.”

Himself a mechanical engineer, John Holtz said it would be an “interesting idea” to follow in his dad’s footsteps and get into restoring machines of some kind. However, he also mentioned that he works more on the theoretical rather than the hands-on side of things, joking that he didn’t like to get his hands dirty.

Despite his father’s association with oil wells, John Holtz said that his strongest memory of Augie Holtz is “strangely” a simpler, if more personal, experience. In the dead of winter one Super Bowl Sunday, Augie Holtz and his wife, Lorraine Holtz, took their son out sled ridding at Pithole. The family was lucky to come upon a hill covered with a lot of ice, ensuring a very speedy ride down.

“Boy, we went flying down that hill,” John Holtz said “We were out there for a couple hours.”

Pleasantville’s Memorial Day service will take place at Fairview Cemetery. Preceding the service will be a parade, which will set out at 11:45 a.m., from Pleasantville Elementary School.

Ray can be reached, by email, at

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