In honor of Private Emil Wasilowski, Army - Served in the Korean War Hometown: Eagan (Submitted November 2, 2010 by Scott Wasilowski)
Emil Gilbert Wasilowski 1931-2010
Emil Wasilowski was best known as a tireless and energetic entrepreneur. Starting some eight companies, Wasilowski owned a diverse portfolio of enterprises generally related to the engineering and construction industry.
Among Emil’s entrepreneurial enterprises was a venture manufacturing and distributing coconut chips. Emil, inspired by a trip to Hawaii, processed coconuts into thin slices of roasted and salted snacks. Distribution was a family effort with the Wasilowski kids selling cello-packed bags of chips door-to-door in their West St. Paul neighborhood.
Among the businesses he started were Wasco Electric, Imperial Engineering, Ebssan Mechanical, Strati-Systems, American Erectors, Sorenson Excavation. Wasilowski also developed real estate in the late 1970s and 80s including Burnell Park Estates and Judicial Knolls subdivisions in Burnsville. He also built several scattered site homes in Burnsville and Eagan.
Emil had a special affection for family friends in need of employment and for newly-arrived immigrants. He mentored and hired engineers from the former Soviet bloc and Africa – giving grateful students and political refugees their first break in America. He made them part of his extended family and taught his children the value of diversity and mutual respect.
He loved all things mechanical and could with great ingenuity fix any machine put before him. While running a small engine repair shop, he was once seen fixing a lawn mower carburetor with a single edge razor blade. He charged his customer full price.
Born to Emil and Anne Wasilowski of St. Cloud, Minnesota in February 1931, Emil attended Cathedral High School. The eldest of four children, Emil was an energetic young man (some might say “troubled”) whose vitality was channeled in a Golden Gloves boxing program. During his senior year in high school he won his division in the Golden Gloves Regional Tournament in Chicago and went on to win two back to back National Championships in is weight class in 1945 1nd 1946. He enjoyed a brief professional career winning all ten of his pro fights.
Upon graduation from high school he worked as a gandy-dancer, switchman and brake-man for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1950 he was drafted by the U.S. Army and served a two year commitment in the 82nd Airborne Division. He made 33 successful jumps. His military training stuck with him as he often had his children “dress right” and then take a photo of his small but growing “company.”
In June 1952 he married Burnell Gregory. On leaving the military he attended electronics school and continued to work for the railroad.
His interest in electronics led him into the emerging field of solid state electronics, radar, guided missiles and missile guidance systems. After completing electronics school, he became the chief engineer for radio station WAHA in Anniston, Alabama and worked for a short time at a local television station in Andalusia, Alabama.
Employed later by Philco Corporation, Emil worked as an electrical engineer. Assigned to an Army contract installing a radar ground station in Dillingham, Alaska Emil started to fly small airplanes. While in Dillingham he helped bring electrical power to a remote Inuit village.
While at Philco, he worked as a civilian instructor at the Redstone Arsenal (now the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center) in Huntsville, Alabama. His work there included design of missile guidance systems for the Corporal Rocket and the Redstone Rocket -- which was later upgraded to launch Alan Shepard into sub-orbital flight in 1961. With energy to spare, Emil started a residential electrical contracting firm: Wasco Electric.
After a few years in Alabama, his interest in electronics landed him a position in Minneapolis with Univac in the emerging field of mainframe computers. At Univac, Email attended the company’s electronics training program and worked in the Core Memory Design Department and later in Logic Memory Design Department. He supervised the installation of missile guidance computers and Command and Control Center simulators for the U.S. Navy. He was part of the Univac team that installed the missile guidance system on the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier -- USS John F. Kennedy -- and a research computer at Queens College in London.
His work at Univac also included engineering oversight for missile tracking stations used to monitor the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned space program. His work took him to many parts of the globe including Ascension Island, England, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Portugal and Spain. While at Univac he continued to pursue his interest in aviation eventually earning a private pilot’s license.
In the late 1960s he left Univac to go to work for a Control Data Corporation where he worked as a program manager for about two years.
But bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he launched Imperial Engineering – a residential heating and air-conditioning company. During a recession in the late 1970s this company failed but re-emerged as an industrial engineering company, Ebssan Mechanical. This company (an anagram of the Wasilowski family names) focused on materials handling systems in the feed and grain industry – installing conveyors and dust collection systems in countless grain elevators in the mid-west. At its peak the company employed nearly 150 people including family members and friends in need of summer work. One of its conveyor system designs was instrumental in the success in the first maintenance-free battery developed by Gould National Battery.
It was during this period that Emil acquired his first airplane – a Cessna 210. He used the aircraft for personal and business use often taking clients on entertainment junkets and his family on vacations to Florida an St Simons Island, Georgia. He owned several 210s over the years. Always the deal-maker, he once traded a pickup truck for an experimental aircraft – a single seat, parasol wing, Stolp Starlett. It was in this airplane that his grandson August got his first (unauthorized) airplane ride.
Emil’s trips to Gould’s headquarters in Chicago exposed him to engineers at Motorola who were in need of a low-energy consuming shelter to house microwave radio stations for installation in harsh desert environments. A design by Emil and his engineers was presented and, after testing, accepted by Motorola. The result was yet another engineering concern: Strati-Systems. The shelter was a success and many units were installed in Algeria and Tunisia along the oil pipelines being built in the region in the 1980s. Emil spent several months in the desert supervising installation and testing.
During these years Emil had an interest in developing real estate – constructing single family homes and developing land in Eagan and Burnsville. Emil developed and acquired several more construction and engineering companies until his retirement in 2007.
Emil’s enthusiasm for business sometimes came at a cost – both financial and personal. He once endured a period of total blindness as the result of an job site accident. His occasional disputes with creditors, partners and the I.R.S. are a part of his legend. Friend and attorney Judge Tom Murphy of St. Paul once quipped that “Emil had taken so many baths over the years that he would never need to shower.” Family friend and former employee, Jim Mahady reflecting on Emil’s charity and character, once referred to Emil as a “saint and a sinner.” Emil never feared failure. Failure to him was an opportunity to learn, dust off and try again.
In 1987 Burnell passed away and several years later Emil met Judy Schwengler. After a brief courtship, Judy and Emil were married in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1993.
Judy and Emil enjoyed traveling, fishing and the company of their large family: numbering nine children, seventeen grand-children and three great-grand children. Along with many nieces and nephews, countless friends and former employees, Emil is survived by his wife Judith, children Steve (Laura), Stan, Spencer (Jean), Stuart (Michelle), Anne (Adam Ramsey), Nancy (Morgan Krueger) , Scott (Tracy), Rick (Angie) Schwengler, Kathy (Fran) Burke, two sisters Luanne (Jim) Greenlund and Mary Kay (Don) Kivisto, and his sister-in-law Jeanette. In addition to Burnell, Emil was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Jack.
His good will, self-determination, and zest for life endure in all who knew him.
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