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 2010.
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 Cervenka’s family.
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 engineering technology.
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.