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August 7, 2017

Earliest Life Lessons

by Frank Sowa

“Always keep your nose to the grindstone.”

My dad was an interesting, though busy man. A Mercury-Apollo and Viking-Mars rocket scientist, heat-transfer, nuclear and boiler expert (later nuclear power and cooling IMG_0038systems), hypersonic aircraft researcher, advanced gyrostat design for space attitude control systems, inventor, mechanical/aeronautical engineer, naval aviator, F4U Corsair

F4U-Corsair Espiritu Santo

F4U-1 Corsair Espiritu Santo

nightfighter section leader, golfer, distance runner (captain of the cross-country team), farmer, church leader, little-league coach, 4H leader, catechism teacher, and colonel in the US Marine Corps, he still found quality famiy-time for extensive vacation travel, tractor-rides, sledding, ice-skating, bonfires, and multi-family cookouts. My dad was the son, one of four sons, of two immigrants who after travelling to Ellis Island to avoid the wars in Europe, settled in the Detroit area. They spoke no English when they arrived, and took unskilled labor jobs at the local chemical factory where they met each other and married. His favorite line to me from a very early age was, “Always keep your nose to the grindstone … stay passionately focused, and remain out-of-trouble.”

My mom, was no less interesting. She was one of the first women in the US to study law IMG_0040at Buchtel College, an education that landed her as an executive secretary for the Coast Guard and for Goodyear. During WWII


Buchtel College

she served as a Navy WAVE and Army WAC, she also worked on riveting Corsair fuselages in Akron. Working on aircraft made her join the Ninety-Nines (Organization of Women Pilots) after she saw the first record-setting flights of Amelia Earhart. Mom met Eleanor Roosevelt at the Biltmore Estate (when she was managing a food service for Marshall Fields there– she loved to bake and can fruit and vegetables) and they wrote each other when Roosevelt was in the White House, when she was not coaching girls softball, flying, selling real estate, gardening, or cooking and baking. Mom still had the time to spend with her two sons, dogs, farm animals, vacationing, ice-skating, dancing, playing music, singing, and entertaining. My mom encouraged me into entrepreneurship, to read and practice cursive writing and art, to garden, partake in cub and boy scouts, join the boys choir, act in school plays and work for extra money (for the next Depression-of course). Mom was one of three daughters of immigrants who travelled from Europe to avoid the wars landing on Ellis Island and settling in the Akron area. They spoke little/no English when they arrived and my grandfather (who had owned a lumber company in Europe) eventually ran a general store in Akron until he died at an early age, while my grandmother ran a boarding house. They also found initial jobs at the rubber factory where they met each other and married. Her favorite lines to me from a very early age were, “Don’t EVER be afraid to explore or create. If you ever get too self-centered, take a reflective walk in the woods or on the beach. If you ever feel overwhelmed, or too self-important/proud — go outside at night and ponder how small you are when you look toward the stars.”


I eventually moved away, went to college, and studied to be a scientist, but also double-majored in English (with aspirations to be a science-writer). I remained okay through my early career life — having been nurtured in strong family-life, religious beliefs and morals, and a strong-sense that I would eventually succeed. I NEVER forgot the life lessons of my parents and what those words meant to me. I even passed them on to my son, so that future generations can grow in that same wisdom.

It wasn’t always that way. During grade school and high school I was chastised as a loner who didn’t fit in exactly right with my peers — and who was picked on for my height. Later, in career life, I fell upon some very harsh times. But, through it all … like a beacon from my past, my parents lessons for me kept me on the right path.

The point of this blogpost was NOT to just profess a little about myself. Human Resource Executive Magazine now says that one of the top six questions asked of interviewees 0001_iobfigwhen they are applying for a job is to “tell the interviewer the most important lessons they learned from their parents, and why.” For me, the lessons are so much in the forefront of my brain, it’d be no problem to provide an answer.

Keeping your nose to the grindstone means that you probably have a good work ethic. My dad would’ve agreed — and I do think that was the point he was making.

Never being afraid to explore and create is a must in 21st Century society, and my resume appears to back that up quite well. The other comments my mom made were to do three other important things: 1) Find a way to be humble (even if you are proud). 2) Don’t let life go by without taking some personal time to smell the roses and re-engage with nature. 3) Always stand in awe at the size of the universe, and think about how small and meaningless everything we do is in relation to it. (Time is short — Carpe Diem!)

And, with that … I hope you also have a good day.

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