Nancy Donnelly Praetzel: Tales from Marin County

New oral history: Nancy Donnelly Praetzel

Nancy Donnelly (soon to be Nancy Donnelly Praetzel) upon completion of her United Airlines stewardess training program in Cheyenne, Wyoming, May 1955.

Nancy Donnelly Praetzel’s oral history documents a century of lived history in Marin County as told by a 1953 graduate of UC Berkeley. Praetzel, who has researched her family’s genealogy, discussed several generations of her family who have lived in Marin County from just after the 1906 earthquake through the present. She shared her family’s stories of migration to and survival in Marin County, including that of her English-born grandfather, Ernest Clayton, who made beautiful paintings of California wildflowers that she still sells today. Praetzel also recounted her own memories of the Great Depression, of life on the Homefront during World War II, of youth summer camps in Sonoma County, as well as her experiences at UC Berkeley in the early 1950s. Praetzel offered insight into the nature of work as a stewardess in the commercial airlines industry of the mid-1950s. She also discussed her marriage from 1957 through today to fellow UC Berkeley graduate, Robert Praetzel, with whom she raised four children in Marin County. Nancy Donnelly Praetzel’s oral history provides a snapshot of one woman’s experience from what Tom Brokaw popularized as the “Greatest Generation.”

Postcard of a Matilija poppy painted by Nancy Donnelly Praetzel’s grandfather to announce an art display at the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, January–April 2013.

Nancy Donnelly Praetzel was born on September 30, 1931, in Marin County, California. Her maternal grandparents came to the Bay Area, respectively, from Ireland and England. Both her maternal and paternal grandparents met in San Francisco and moved to Marin County after destruction of their homes in the 1906 earthquake. In the 1930s, Praetzel’s British maternal grandfather, Ernest Clayton, began painting wildflowers he collected while hiking in Marin County, the original prints of which he donated to the San Francisco Public Library. Nancy Praetzel later resurrected these prints from the archives, hosted various gallery showings of her grandfather’s art, and now sells his prints online.

Upon completing grammar school and high school in Marin County, Praetzel attended UC Berkeley from 1949 to 1953 where she joined the Delta Delta Delta sorority and majored in Social Welfare. Upon graduation, Praetzel worked in Marin County for the Camp Fire Girls, the first nonsectarian, multicultural organization for girls in America. From 1955-1957, Praetzel worked as a United Airlines stewardess, including a stint traveling with the DC Press Corps during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election campaign. In 1957, she married Robert Praetzel, a fellow UC Berkeley graduate whom she met on campus seven years earlier. They have been married over six decades and live in the same home, nestled among redwood trees on the slope of Mt. Tamalpais, in Kentfield, Marin County, California, where they raised their four children. The appendix to Nancy Donnelly Praetzel’s oral history includes newspaper clippings from her time at Cal, examples of her grandfather’s wildflower prints, and several family photographs from Praetzel’s long, rich life.

Nancy Donnelly Praetzel and husband Robert Praetzel in their backyard in Kentfield, Marin County, California, 2007.

I wish to thank Nancy Praetzel and her husband Robert for their patience this past year as we adjusted to the pandemic-induced realities of remote work while finalizing their oral history interviews. I also want to thank the anonymous donor whose generous gift to the Oral History Center made these interviews possible.

—Roger Eardley-Pryor, PhD


“Nancy Donnelly Praetzel: Tales from Marin County” conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor in 2019, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2021.