Carl Schack ’54 knows the value of hard work. When he was in school, the retired rocket scientist funded his own high school and college education by working. Today, after a long career, he is helping Jr. Bills receive a quality education through his own generosity.
“My mom wanted me to go to SLUH, but my family had very little money,” says Schack (pronounced ‘shake’), whose father was an Austrian immigrant. Neither of his parents had the opportunity to attend high school. During the summers in high school, Schack worked at Holy Cross Parish doing maintenance projects, such as refinishing furniture and replacing pews, to earn money for school.
High school, he says, was a challenge. After the first quarter freshman year, he was moved from one homeroom to another, which, on top of navigating a rigorous curriculum, was a social adjustment.
“SLUH taught me how to think critically,” says Schack, who was a member of Sodality, the Science Club and Acolythical Society. He also played football for a year and was on the rifle team. Fr. A. Francis Coomes, S.J., founder of SLUH’s rifle program, was one of Schack’s favorite Jesuits. “He was a tough guy, a real straight shooter,” says Schack, who also revered legendary science teacher Carl Miller.
Following SLUH, Schack earned his undergraduate degree at Saint Louis University and paid for tuition by working as a seal skin blubberer in Alaska. He processed seal skins (removing the blubber) for Fouke Fur Company on St. Paul Island, in the middle of the Bering Sea. The island was so remote it had no boat docks, and the workers, including Schack, used canvas canoes to traverse the water.
Schack, who always had an interest in chemistry, attended Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now Polytechnic Institute of New York University) for graduate school, earning a PhD, before entering the workforce in 1964.
“At the time there were lots of jobs available, and I was looking for a free ticket to California,” says Schack. He interviewed at Rocketdyne, a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer based in Los Angeles, and was hired. “I liked the people at the company and the type of work they did.”
Schack spent his entire 39-year career at Rocketdyne, whose clients include NASA and the U.S. military. Among other achievements, the company developed all of the big engines for the Saturn rocket family as well as the engine used to lift the astronauts from the moon to their earthbound capsule. It’s incredibly detail-oriented work that requires proficiency, precision and passion.
In 2007, Schack established the first of what would eventually become four scholarships at SLUH. In addition, he has included his alma mater in his estate.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Schack, whose wife, Merlyn, passed away five years ago. He still resides in Los Angeles and enjoys spending time with his grandchildren.
“SLUH changed my life,” he says. “I’d like students today to have it a little easier than I did when I was a student.”