Cervenka called visionary at School of Engineering dedication
October 27, 2017
The life and impact of the late plastics pioneer Robert
F. Cervenka were celebrated Friday, Oct. 27, as University of Wisconsin-Stout
dedicated its new School of Engineering in Cervenka’s name.
On a snowy day that prevented Cervenka’s wife, Debbie,
from traveling to campus, Chancellor Bob Meyer hailed the founder of Phillips
Plastics as a visionary who cared deeply for his employees and who shared many
similarities with James Huff Stout, who founded UW-Stout in 1891.
“What a thrill it would have been to have had a
conversation with the person who invested his wealth to the benefit of so many
people,” Meyer said of James Stout. “But in many ways, I think many of us had
the good fortune of meeting a modern-day version of James Huff Stout when we
had a chance to work with Bob Cervenka.”
Cervenka founded Phillips Plastics in his hometown of
Phillips in 1964. It now has 15 facilities in Wisconsin and one in California,
with annual sales of $300 million and 1,600 employees. The company was sold in
Cervenka died two years ago at the age of 79.
The Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering, approved by
the UW System Board of Regents earlier this year, is in Fryklund Hall and was
named in Cervenka’s honor to recognize his lifetime of philanthropy to UW-Stout,
which totals $5.5 million, including a memorial gift of $2.5 million from
Meyer, during the dedication ceremony in the Memorial
Student Center, recognized many retired faculty and advocates who helped
develop UW-Stout’s array of engineering programs. He said Debbie Cervenka, “by
continuing the Cervenka family’s tradition of philanthropy, has made the
creation of a School of Engineering possible. This is a wonderful way for all
of us to remember Bob and his significant contributions.”
A friend of Debbie Cervenka, Leslie Lagerstrom, of
Minneapolis, delivered remarks Debbie Cervenka prepared for the event.
“When I asked Bob what it was about Stout that set this
institution apart from others,” Debbie Cervenka said in the remarks, “he said,
‘the people, the faculty and the students they educated.’ Bob saw the hands-on
approach to teaching that resulted in graduates not just studying technology
but having the ability to apply what they learned when they walked onto a manufacturing
floor as a huge advantage to industry.”
Robert Cervenka was adamant that UW-Stout needed to add
mechanical engineering to its program array to encourage students from this
part of Wisconsin “to achieve their educational dreams,” Debbie Cervenka wrote.
The Board of Regents approved the mechanical engineering
program in 2015.
UW Regent Mark Tyler pointed to the “astounding”
influence that Cervenka had on the overall manufacturing environment in
northern Wisconsin, especially the plastics industry. Cervenka “modeled success
that others have emulated,” Tyler said.
Other speakers included Chuck Bomar, dean of the College
of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management; and Mark
Parsons, vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing.
UW-Stout offers these accredited undergraduate
engineering programs: computer engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering and plastics engineering. The university also offers a master’s degree program in manufacturing engineering, as well as an undergraduate program in
More information about the Robert F. Cervenka School of
Engineering is available at the website.
For a video about the school, click here.
Top: A friend of the Cervenka family, Leslie Lagerstrom, left,
unveils a plaque with Chancellor Bob Meyer for the Robert F. Cervenka School of
Engineering at a dedication ceremony Friday, Oct. 27, at UW-Stout.
Middle: A Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering sign is
installed on the south side of UW-Stout’s Fryklund Hall.
Bottom:The main entrance to Fryklund Hall at UW-Stout features a
new sign for the Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering.