FaceBook  Twitter

By Thomas J. Michalski, Michigan ‘56

When I arrived as a freshman in Ann Arbor, after driving with my parents from my home in Wisconsin, I enjoyed a friendly welcome.  In 1951, the GI Bill vets had left; the total University of Michigan student body was 17,000 in a sleepy little college town.  My tuition was double that of $90 for in-state students -- and both included football tickets.  For that education!  In that place!

Before I pledged Delta Chi, while living in South Quad I was a freshman tryout at The Michigan Daily which boasted in their banner “The Latest Deadline in the State” -- until I realized that 2 am grind was not compatible with my strenuous five-year program in architecture and city planning.  I easily overcame the paper’s Greek antipathy, and pledged Delta Chi. 

My fondest memories are based on the unconditional love as we grew into manhood, having to share all our personalities and quirks.  We had the choice of two dorms -- “cold and colder” -- where snow might sift down onto our blankets by morning.  I shared a study suite with Brother Don Skinner ‘56 who was an A+D classmate and now colleague, Bill Thewalt ’58 studying business, and Larry Smart '55 who was later noted in the Sault Ste. Marie paper as being a philanthropist and a brilliant conversationalist.  Our room was never lacking in visitors: you would be surprised to know how many people remark “I considered becoming an architect.”  There is no avoiding the built environment, and particularly as I traveled my background provided an added cultural dimension. 

Michalski in 1992 at age 60

I lived three years in the house, and was called “Mick” familiarizing my surname.  One football weekend, the OSU brothers “kidnapped” convivial Bill Cortright ’54 to take him back with them to Columbus for a few days.  (The nearest such escapade I had was when as a pledge some actives drove me to Battle Creek.)

My favorite Bridge bid is a difficult-to-make three-no-trump, and I confess to spending too much time in aggressive pick-up no-scorekeeping games in the alcove off our lawyerly brown leather furnished living room. 

As recording secretary “C” to Art Angood “A” ’56 we whittled down Chapter meetings to about an hour, referring matters back to the committees.  When lastly I served as Steward, late afternoons our cook Bertha might stand at the base of our elegant stairs and call up to me “Tom! Oh, Tom!” and I would come down to address her concern, assuredly earning my keep.  We were colonizing Western Michigan and invited them to a few prime rib dinners served as we often did on napery tablecloths with candles. 

Though small in number (about 50 in the later 1950s) we had three Michigan Marching Band members: Bob Stakenas ’55 then our “A” president, Russ Jack ’57 and John Jenkins ‘57; in cheerleader togs Dave Edwards ‘54; at Hill Auditorium the oldest Michigan Men’s Glee Club, as with our parents for the Homecoming Concert, Gene Holcomb ’56 in “White Tie and Tails” -- how festive was our Chapter house!   

We did it all within the limitations of our old house on the corner lot of Hill and Oxford wisely bought by our own Hank DeKoning ’32, Wilbur Nelson ’34 and MSU “BB” alumnus Joe Lacchia.  We proudly persevered in a veritable renaissance, were genuinely caring and unpretentious.  These Delta Chi traits have served me well. 

After earning my 1956 B. Arch., I worked in Milwaukee urban renewal, figuring since I had received a full scholarship from the Wisconsin Architects Foundation I should return.  I remember U.P. native Larry Smart ’55 who earned his history B.A. in 1955 telling me, “Tom, I do so love this great University and these brothers, I cannot bear to leave and will stay in the house another year for my Masters.”  With the same sentiment, I returned to earn my M.C.P. in 1959, and though living in apartments with various roommates Fred Jackson ‘59, Harry Donald ‘58, Don Skinner ‘56, Bill Thewalt ‘58, Don Trim ‘59 and Paul Wolcott ‘58, I would often dine in the fraternity at 1705 Hill Street, just off Washtenaw Avenue. 

Baltimore County Office of Planning chose me to be Senior Planner on their staff in Towson, Maryland, where I learned to appreciate how development decisions are made with public and private cooperation. This prepared me well as I entered private practice with my own office on Nassau Street in Princeton, serving governments and private developers throughout New Jersey and the region, including client Boise Cascade then considering a large new town in Marlboro Township. 

The challenge of Manhattan beckoned, where late 60s into the 70s I was very political on the Upper East Side, especially in landmark preservation.  We built on an entire vacant block Ruppert Green, edged with allotment gardens, in the dog days of August after we secured a grant from the great philanthropist Brooke Astor of the Vincent Astor Foundation.  I have advised many young people to give Manhattan a try, but give it time, as I enjoyed 10 years..

My accomplishments attracted the attention of firms with large contracts in Iran and Saudi Arabia, in the late 1970-80s timeframe.  Working on a new town in inner city Tehran, I came to love the Iranian people.  But that has been true for me in all my observations: it is not money or “things” but people who count, and governments can often be defined as old men sending young men to war. 

Vacant street corners in Tehran brim with February flats of pansies. Looking down onto the rear yard of the town house next to our company villa one morning, we saw that the entire lot had been planted with them – what a delightful groundcover. 

And oh their national dish! -- chelow kabab -- choice strips of lamb loin over saffron rice, topped with a raw egg yolk sprinkled with powdered sumac.   At our villa we kept a varying pastel plastic gallon of lumpy healthful Iranian yogurt – no wonder they live so long.  In those tolerant years of Shahanshah Aryamer Pahlavi, Iran also produced acceptable domestic red or white vin ordinaire and even perousa, their own gin.  The proud Persians are Indo-European Aryan people speaking Farsi who thrive on their environment.  My Michigan mentor Professor John W. Hyde had entered the design professions through landscape architecture, and had served “Frank” Roosevelt on the old NRPB National Resources Planning Board, the closest we have come to national planning, which dwindled away when FDR was a dying man.  Meanwhile in London, Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie and his team toiled over the drafting tables preparing the post-war London Plan of 1944 . . . while Nazi bombs rained down.

After completing two contracts on the highest-paying-ever A-E project, the $10-billion on the Red Sea Yanbu Industrial City receiving end of the dual oil and natural gas trans-Saudi pipelines from the Gulf, I reflected it was time to tie together my adventuresome lifestyle.  The Saudis gave us generous COLA and vacations about every five months.  On one, I flew Malaysian to Hong Kong where our group of 22 gathered to tour Mainland China and enjoy their cuisine.

To gather my life experiences I “went up to Cambridge to read” as the British say, in the late 80s, and was visiting scholar at Magdalene College (pr. maud-lin).  Small wonder after Delta Chi I so much enjoyed an English College.  I was free to roam the disciplines preparing the course I have been teaching in various venues, including my return as a grateful alumnus to the University of Michigan TCAUP Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  The course comprehensive title is Planning Sustainable Communities in the Developing Nations.  Some students griped when I stressed comparative religions, but in view of harsh current events as usual the professor was correct.  

I regard the topic as the most compelling global challenge for the remainder of this 21st Century.  Every word needs to be defined:  What is “planning,” what is “sustainability,” what defines a “community,” what is “development” in emerging “nationhood?”   I am interdisciplinary and tough, so do not be beguiled by my age 78 photo portrait as a kindly old professor.  Delta Chi contemporaries will remember me more like in the free spirit photo at the Atlantic shore in Florida. 

Throughout the years, I have vacationed often with my relatives in Vienna.  Our long-living family goes back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire where my mother Anna was born in 1904 Slovakia.  First cousin Johanna Benca and I were soul mates, more like brother and sister, she ever praktisch while I tend to be romantisch.  A pediatric surgical nurse, “Hanni” introduced me to European culture, as did I her to American.  What a memorable drive in May 2003 from Vienna looping through northern Italy while we enjoyed one of the world’s great cuisines, returning through the Dolomites via Innsbruck back to Wien.  At Christmas, the choral music from Germany and Austria on TV and radio is glorious throughout the long, endearing Austrian Weinachtsfest.  Wherever we lived we attended opera and concerts.

Now retired in Melbourne on the Space Coast of Florida, I have guided affordable housing construction. which is really my forte. I read much history and biography. 

Michalski in 2010 at age 78

and have also organized and taught a popular Saturday seminar in growth management here in Brevard County.  Something of a gourmand around the kitchen, I have always enjoyed entertaining.  I spend way too much time emailing  Brothers and others – can I help it that you are such interesting people?

Since a pulmonary embolism and my 2013 DVT (deep leg vein thrombosis) blood clot surgery, I now do the “walker waddle” and realize that one difficulty in old age for some can be constantly having to arrange transportation.  So be on the watch, with yearly leg sonograms reviewed by a vascular surgeon.  They don’t call it CV cardio-vascular exercise for nothing, so keep up the workouts.  May all our health care be manageable as we advance in wisdom and age. 

If young scholars are interested in the cachet, through this Newsletter you can contact me about a one-year program toward the M.Phil (Cantab.) degree -- or (Oxon.) if you insist on going to Oxford which we call “the other place” as they do us.  Also consider the path toward Who’s Who in America.

Extend your boundaries even when it seems risky to do so.  Be on guard against alcohol and other mood-altering drugs and sexual addictions.  Maintain an inquisitive and joyful outlook. I earned wealth but risked a lot of money -- living in England will do that.  Have no regrets or recriminations.  What good are they?  When you believe in a higher power unconditional love incentive toward an afterlife, to have such is a veritable insult while on this pilgrimage.  Listen to that inner “spirit” which impels your integrity. It will not fail you.  

Thanks to my forbearing and financing parents.  My father Tom was born in Wisconsin of immigrants from the German-Polish corridor.  I remember them having kind words about others. Congratulations to the alumni who have worked so hard to bring the dream of the new house into being.  My career and more I attribute in large part to the social values and communication skill set I derived in over 60 fraternal years. Michigan Delta Chi, know always that

I love you.

From those to whom much has been given, much is expected in return.

Thomas J. Michalski

Melbourne, Florida

5 December 2016

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.