My Early Life
I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, as the oldest of four children. My father was a manager of tool and die operations at Ford’s Dearborn Stamping Plant. My mother was the homemaker of our beautiful home. They grew up in the Old Neighborhood, a neighborhood of European immigrants on the west side of Detroit.
My paternal grandfather was a production supervisor at Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant. He knew Henry Ford, and Ford knew him because in the time before auto unions, my grandfather was the leader of a Polish-American organization of workers. (This allowed us to call my grandfather’s and my father’s place of work Ford’s plant rather than the Ford plant.) My paternal grandparents were born in rural southeastern Poland near Rzeszow and immigrated to America as teenagers in the early part of the 20th century. My paternal grandmother was near or at the head of the line to board the Titanic when it ran out of space in stowage. My paternal grandfather worked as a logger for a dollar a day in upper Michigan, rode the rails, and was a formidable card player.
My maternal grandparents, who also immigrated to America as teenagers, owned a grocery store in Detroit, originally in the Old Neighborhood and then on Warren near Southfield in Detroit. We used to hang out their every Friday night as children while our parents bought meat and groceries. My maternal grandfather had nice tastes: He built a nice home in the Old Neighborhood (only to have it torn down when the Ford Freeway went through in the late 1940’s) and a sturdy brick cottage near Detroit Beach on Lake Erie. He was born in Warsaw, loved music, liked new technologies (a nice car, a phonograph, and a movie camera), and knew how to cook. He was taught to cook by his mother before he grew up and left Poland. My maternal grandmother was born in the beautiful rural area outside of Krakow. She is said to have made and sold sandwiches that the workers at the local plant would die for.
Growing up in Michigan was great fun. Both sets of grandparents has cottages (Lake Erie near Detroit Beach and Lake Sugden near Commerce) that we would visit each weekend in the summer. My father bought the cottage on Lake Sugden in 1939 when he was 18 after working at Ford’s. We would swim and bike, play in the snow and leaves, ride horses, play miniature golf, wander through woods, climb hills, and chase all over southeastern Michigan to find items that my mother would use to make our house more attractive and comfortable. My parents focused a lot of their attention on us children and always did these activities together with us. Somehow, they came to see all of our ball games and other performances.
I became a scholar-athlete. I learned about math and how to use a slide rule from my father and read through my mother’s high school chemistry books while still in elementary school. My father built me a place in the basement to do chemistry experiments, and later, had coworkers heat metals and construct equipment for the science fair projects that I did each year in high school. I must have tested my parents’ support of science education as smoke or noxious fumes filled the house from the basement several times. I used Frieden electromechanical calculators in my high school’s business arts classroom to do the statistical analysis for my projects. I graduated fifth in my high school class of just under 150 students and went to the University of Chicago to study chemistry in that wonderful environment so that I could be a professor and teach.
Being one of the bigger and stronger boys of my age, I was drawn to football. That I have poor depth perception and stone fingers helped point me to playing as a guard or tackle. With my younger brother, I started playing football when I was in fifth grade. When I was a high school senior (and my brother a junior), we played on the undisputed top high school football team in the state of Michigan. We were the victors of the Soup Bowl and (the last) Goodfellows Game (played in Briggs Stadium), and we were rated one of the top ten teams in the nation that year. I continued to play football each fall for a total of 20 years (not all in pads). At the University of Chicago, I wrestled and played football. I was voted Most Valuable Lineman each year that I played. After swimming, biking, and living on Mission Beach in San Diego while in graduate school at UCSD, around Chicago between 1986 and 2001 I participated in 50 triathlons and duathlons.
Other than that, I have always been interested in reading, music, art, photography, and cooking–most of which seem to have come to me from my mother and my maternal grandfather. Using mathematics, working with materials, and being out of doors seems to have come from my father.