The Loprinzi’s: America’s Strongest Family Yesterday & Today

Gus Loprinzi. Phot Courtesy of the Loprinzi family

Gus Loprinzi. Phot Courtesy of the Loprinzi family

“There is no wealth but life. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, over the lives of others.” ― John Ruskin
Vegetable peddler, Pasquale “Charles” Loprinzi of Portland, Oregon (originally hailing from Trabia, Sicily) although inadvertently, was living his life true to these words by Ruskin. In turn, his children, and their children, would grow to do the same. 
 
In the mid 1930s he was trying to raise five kids without the help and support of a wife. Sadly, his wife, Rosa Formosa (also hailing from Trabia) had been hospitalized due to a bout of diphtheria, which eventually left her struggling with dementia. In her thirties she was committed to the Oregon State Hospital and would live out the rest of her years away from her husband and children.
 
With his eldest daughter’s help he was able to raise his children and being in the produce business, he was also able to nourish them well. In 1946 when the Loprinzi’s were dubbed, “The Strongest Family in America,” Charles declared that it was all the spinach he fed his sons that helped make them so strong. Between his sons (and a few cousins), they could lift a total of two and a half tons.
 
As the story goes it all started when Charles’ young sons, Joe and Sam witnessed a strongman act at Portland’s Hippodrome Theater. They were so impressed with what they saw, (namely one of the great strength showmen of the time, Clevio Massimo) that they came home and started building their own weights.
“We decided to make some weights out of cement, so we would take some cans and pour cement into them and put a pipe in between,” states Joe, from the article, A Man Ahead of His Time, by Jennifer Brown. He continues stating, “We couldn’t afford to buy weights in those days.” 

Joe Loprinzi - 1937

Joe and his brother Sam got hooked on physical fitness and they started their first gym next to their garage where friends and neighbors would come to workout. Over the years their commitment and level of involvement increased, Joe becoming a highly popular trainer at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland and Sam becoming a renowned body builder winning the Most Muscular Physique category in the Mr. America competition. Sam just barely missed the title that year (1946) and was crowned, runner-up. He then went on to win the Mr. Pacific Coast contest in 1948. 
 
1948 was also a landmark year in that Sam opened his own gym, aptly named, Loprinzi’s. It was a house turned workout arena and Sam’s brother Gus (a metal worker) welded up and fabricated some of Sam’s first weight lifting equipment.  Back in 1930 Gus had been slated to go to the Olympics in boxing but broke his jaw and couldn’t attend. Many of Portland’s elite athletes trained at Loprinzi’s diligently following the Loprinzi workout regimes. 
 
Although under new ownership, Loprinzi’s Gym is still in operation and continues to have a loyal following of athletes to this day- over 60 years later.

Phillip Loprinzi at University of Portland - 1940s

“Good Health - Your Most Valuable Possession,” is a quote you’ll see front and center at Loprinzi’s Gym. The Loprinzi’s truly believed this, and lived it daily. It seems the only thing that made them happier than living such a lifestyle, was helping others achieve this lifestyle as well.
Years have passed and so have Sam and Joe Loprinzi. They left behind a legacy and both became icons in their industry. The Multnomah Athletic Club now has an entire wing dedicated to Joe as well as a Joe Loprinzi scholarship for scholar athletes. And Sam has been described in, The Iron Game History, as “A gym owner who actually cared about his pupils- who loved them. He was a man of strength and muscle but much more than that, a man who left behind a legacy, rich not just in the memory of what he accomplished, but even more so of the gracious spirit that he embodied.” John Grimek, fellow champion bodybuilder.
 
Fast-forward to the year 2016, and meet, Marcella Loprinzi Hatfield.  
She is the youngest daughter of Joe and Sam’s littlest brother, Phillip Loprinzi. Phillip was successful in his own right as a football star at the University of Portland in the early 1940s and then went on to become a revered member of the University of Portland faculty. He taught accounting, and (as you may have guessed) headed up the bodybuilding club.
Marcella followed in her father’s footsteps and is a teacher of nutrition, and core fitness in the Health and Human Performance department at George Fox University. And with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in clinical exercise, you could say that Marcella was influenced by those who came before her. 
 
“My Italian heritage definitely influenced who I have become,” states Marcella. “Food was simple. It was pasta and bread, or fruits and vegetables from the garden.” 
Marcella worked out at Loprinzi’s gym as well in her younger years. “I never felt uncomfortable there,” she says, “everyone felt like family and it was not intimidating.”
Although Marcella enjoys teaching her courses at George Fox University, she is even more passionate about the cutting edge nutrition research that she is working on.
 
“It is a collaboration with the Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).”
The OHSU Moore Institute was created after Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods founders Bob and Charlee Moore pledged a generous gift to help end poor nutrition. According to their website, the mission of the Moore Institute is to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases across the lifespan by promoting healthy, nutrient-rich diets based on whole-foods in early life.
“It just so happens,” Marcella adds, “a George Fox alum is the director of corporate outreach at Bob’s Red Mill, thus the George Fox connection, and I was able to go to a meeting and get involved.” She continues, “In their research, we have found that it’s not just what we’re eating now that matters for the health of our unborn children, but what our mother’s ate before us, and their mothers before them.” 
 
It all sounds daunting, but Marcella is still hopeful. 
 
Last year she saw the implementation of, The Nutrition of Girls and Women in Oregon symposium. This was a free public symposium presented by the Moore Institute with world-renowned and local experts. 
 
The day focused on the importance of nutrition from conception to age two in reducing risk for chronic diseases. Also, how the rise of chronic disease has coincided with a move away from fresh produce and whole grains toward increased consumption of processed foods. The symposium was such a success it was decided to make it an annual event. A quote from Margaret Mead is befitting, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
 
Changes are beginning to happen with Marcella’s commitment to spreading the word about the importance of early nutrition and beyond. Or, maybe things are just coming full-circle. The Loprinzi children grew up on spinach after all. 
“We used to do it right,” Marcella says. “We’re trying to end chronic disease, trying to get a grip on it. Children that are eating processed foods need to be eating whole foods. And that’s our goal.”
For more on Loprinzi’s Gym, the Joe Loprinzi Scholarship, or Marcella’s nutrition research at the Moore Institute at OHSU, visit their websites at, http:// www.loprinzisgym.com/, http://www.multnomahathleticfoundation.com/, and http:// www.ohsu.edu/.  
A special thanks to Mercedes Loprinzi for her in-depth Loprinzi-Formosa family research and her contribution to this article.

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