MILWAUKEE — If they were alive today, Joseph and Placyda Grochowski would no doubt marvel at the stunning, primarily glass engineering facility on the Marquette campus that bears their name.
The $50 million building, Engineering Hall, with LED lighting, an experimental green roof and extensive use of glass both inside and out, was formally opened during a ceremony on Friday, Oct. 7.
On hand for the ceremony were several of Joseph and Placyda’s descendants who proudly posed for photos near the Grochowski Family Student Commons area located on the building’s lower level.
It’s a far cry from the corner grocery store on Milwaukee’s northwest side that the immigrant Grochowskis struggled to run during the Great Depression. Yet, the Grochowski Family Student Commons in Engineering Hall, created with a $1 million gift from Art and Marsha Grochowski, stands in tribute to the hard work and dedication of Joseph and Placyda and their four sons.
Art Grochowski, the youngest of the four boys, is a 1949 Marquette University civil engineering graduate. While he has fond feelings for his alma mater, he admitted that after his graduation, he largely fell out of touch with Marquette. He worked for the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and as an engineer at Mitchell Field before taking a position with the City of Phoenix as its first aviation engineer. During his 27-year career with the city, he witnessed the rapid expansion of the Phoenix airport and after retiring 20 years ago, he worked for America West Airlines.
Since, he’s lived in Phoenix for nearly 50 years, Art said he hasn’t felt too connected to Marquette University. That began changing when one of Art and Marsha’s six children, a daughter, Jean, graduated from Marquette’s College of Engineering in 1989.
When his grandson, Sam Farmer, enrolled at Marquette two years ago, Art again began paying more attention to Marquette, and when he received literature regarding the new engineering building to be constructed at the school, an idea formed in his mind.
“When I found out about the construction of the building, I began thinking this could be a memorial,” explained Art in an interview with your Catholic Herald just before the building’s opening ceremony. “It hit me, I didn’t want my folks or my brothers to be forgotten and I thought this is a great way to do it so we would have a space in the building that would be there forever.”
Art especially wanted the memorial to be a tribute for his older brother, Fr. Edwin Grochowski, a priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese for 53 years until his death on Sept. 4, 1996, at age 79.
“I wanted Fr. Ed, in particular, to be honored because of what he went through, the service he did for the church. So it really was for my folks and Fr. Ed … not for me,” said the humble and soft-spoken retired businessman.
Because Art is 10 years younger than Fr. Grochowski, he said his early memories of his older brother are limited. Fr. Grochowski knew from a young age that he wanted to be a priest, so he entered Saint Francis Seminary immediately after graduating from Marquette University High School, Milwaukee. Art was about 8 years old when his brother left home for the seminary. Yet, over the years, Art and the family proudly watched as Fr. Grochowski served the archdiocese, beginning with his ordination in 1943 by Archbishop Moses E. Kiley. He served as assistant at St. Mary Magdalen, Milwaukee; St. Casimir, Kenosha and St. John Kanty, Milwaukee. He also served as pastor of St. Matthew, Neosho; St. Stanislaus, Racine; St. Casimir, Milwaukee; St. Theresa, Eagle, SS. Cyril and Methodius, Milwaukee, and was a temporary chaplain at St. Francis Hospital, Milwaukee.
Art remembered his brother as a well-respected priest.
“In every parish, he was well liked. They always gave him a grand farewell when he left,” he said.
A former parishioner of Fr. Grochowski’s at St. Stanislaus, who later became his housekeeper and caretaker, Florence Burke, had similar memories of him as a kind, compassionate priest.
“He was very well liked by parishioners,” Burke, now a member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Kenosha, told your Catholic Herald. “He was very kind, very nice, easy to get along with,” she said of the priest who never liked to draw attention to himself. “He was a little shy, but just a great person, with a great sense of humor – an all around great guy.”
Burke cared for Fr. Grochowski for the last three years of his life, years that could not have been easy for either of them, as Fr. Grochowski had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Fr. Grochowski first experienced symptoms of the illness when he lost mobility in his arms, according to Art, and he eventually lost all mobility.
In spite of his illness, however, Burke said Fr. Grochowski never complained and continued to celebrate Mass for as long as he could.
Knowing Fr. Grochowski as well as she did, Burke said her former boss would likely have been pleased with the donation to Marquette University which gave the family naming rights in Engineering Hall, but she said he also would have been very humble about it.
Marsha Grochowski, Art’s wife of 57 years, supported her husband’s decision to give the substantial donation to Marquette University, and she explained that he met with each of their five living children to explain it to them.
“I was all in favor of it and so were all the children,” she said, laughing as she explained that one of their sons, after hearing the news, came back the next day.
“He said he couldn’t sleep all night – he thought Art was terminal,” she said, explaining how they reassured their son that his father’s health was just fine, that he wanted to make the gift as a memorial to his family.
The plaque that hangs in the Grochowski Family Student Commons offers a glimpse into the life of this immigrant family.
“One by one, the sons ventured out on their own: Connie, a retail businessman, who, with Catharine, had four children and three grandchildren; Father Edwin, who was a Milwaukee Archdiocesan pastor for 53 years; Walter, a graduate of Marquette in 1940, who subsequently became the chief of psychiatric social work at the Veteran’s Hospital and, along with Eleanor, had two children, and one grandchild; and Arthur, a Marquette civil engineering graduate in 1949, who served for 40 years in municipal government professional engineering positions and, with Marsha, had six children and four grandchildren. Connie, Walter and Arthur served in the U.S. Army in World War II, being members of what has been called the “Greatest Generation.”
According to a Sept. 30 press release from Marquette University, phase one of the construction project broke ground March 2010, and was made possible by 10 gifts of $1 million or more, including a $25 million pledge from an anonymous donor and three other anonymous gifts.
“Engineering Hall was planned to illustrate engineering principles,” according to Opus Dean of Engineering Robert Bishop. “This building is a form of art, combining function with aesthetics.”
Calling Engineering Hall not just a building, but a “platform for the transformation taking place inside,” Bishop said, “Today’s engineers must be problem solvers, creative thinkers, innovators…. We’re changing the way we educate engineers and the new building reflects those changes.”
The design builder for the building was Opus Development Corporation and the design architect was Opus AE Group, Inc., with Hammel Green & Abrahamson, Inc., collaborating on the conceptual design.
The building is the first of a two-part initiative, according to the university. A 135,000 square-foot, $50 million second phase addition has already been designed and fundraising is underway.