January 26, 2007

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Chemist’s family donates laboratory to St. Rose School

St. Rose of Lima sixth-grader William Roush of Franklin works with science teacher Amber Hayes on a chemistry experiment with new laboratory equipment. Carolyn Kurek said the dedication of the science laboratory was “a very emotional realization that what Joe [Kurek] stood for in his life was something that was going to live on.”

St. Rose of Lima sixth-grader William Roush of Franklin works with science teacher Amber Hayes on a chemistry experiment with new laboratory equipment. Carolyn Kurek said the dedication of the science laboratory was “a very emotional realization that what Joe [Kurek] stood for in his life was something that was going to live on.”

By Mary Ann Wyand

(Listen to the reporter read this story)

FRANKLIN—A new science laboratory at St. Rose of Lima School is the result of a chemist’s legacy, a family’s generosity and a Boy Scout’s love for his father who died too young.

A bronze plaque outside the science classroom door pays tribute to Dr. Joseph Kurek, a noted chemist and chemistry professor who enjoyed his profession so much that he built a laboratory in a small building next to his home in Franklin.

Kurek taught at Franklin College and the University of Indianapolis, and enjoyed showing students the importance of organic chemistry in daily life.

“Chemistry was his life,” Carolyn Kurek, his widow, explained. “He lived it. Joe was a teacher, first and foremost, a wonderful teacher. He taught chemistry in addition to working as the chief chemist at Heritage Environmental Group for 17 years. He taught in some of the most wonderful ways, and I’ve had so many tributes from his students.”

After his death from cancer on May 1, 2005, at age 60, she decided to give his laboratory equipment to St. Rose School.

“I just felt like I needed to do something that kept his teaching spirit alive,” Carolyn Kurek said. “He was very active at St. Rose in many, many ways, and I wanted to do something at the school in Joe’s memory. Father Paul Shikany, the former pastor, said, ‘Why don’t you do something for the science lab?’ They had been trying desperately over the years, in bits and pieces, to put a lab together. Dave Roush headed that effort.”

The family gift became a family project when 16-year-old Michael Kurek decided to coordinate the installation of his father’s laboratory cabinets and chemistry supplies at the school for his Eagle Scout award.

Roush, a chemist, parishioner and family friend, worked with Mike and other members of St. Rose of Lima Boy Scout Troop #227 to complete the project last summer.

Now middle school students have modern equipment to help them learn about the physical sciences.

In addition to the science equipment, the Kureks gave a financial gift to the school to purchase other supplies to complete the laboratory.

Mike, who is a junior at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, said “it was a great honor” to build the science laboratory in his father’s memory.

“I’m happy about it,” Mike said. “He did so many things, but there aren’t that many people outside the science field that really knew that much about him so this will help spread what he was all about to people.”

Mike joined the Boy Scout troop at his parish six years ago, and spent 300 service hours on his Eagle Scout project.

He hopes to apply for a Marine ROTC scholarship at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and serve in the Marine Corps for 10 to15 years then become a park ranger.

“This was an excellent opportunity for St. Rose School to build a top-tier science program,” explained Roush, who is a chemist at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis.

“The school is supported solely by St. Rose Parish and student tuition,” he said, “and creating a laboratory of this caliber would have taken years without this generous gift.”

Roush said a science committee was established with “the goal of creating a modern high technology lab with hands-on learning opportunities and advanced scientific demonstrations in a safe learning environment.”

With additional donations and volunteer time, he said, the science laboratory became a reality.

“Over the course of the summer, Michael was able to refinish three wall cabinets and two bench cabinets as well as build a new bookshelf,” Roush said. “He organized Troop #227 Scouts to remove glassware from his father’s lab then clean and transport it all to St. Rose School. The science committee ordered thousands of dollars of new science experiments, and helped install the cabinets and TV. Approximately 300 volunteer hours and $6,000 of a pledged $12,000 have been spent to date on the lab, which opened at the beginning of school in August.”

The Dr. Joseph Kurek Laboratory is equipped with a 32-inch LCD television with a VCR/DVD player that is wired to the teacher’s computer for use in lecturing as well as to connect to the Internet for class viewing of science webcasts. A USB microscope also connects to the TV so the class can view microscope slides.

Other laboratory equipment includes multiple electronic balances for weighing, a variety of hands-on chemistry demonstrations, a generator, numerous textbooks and science kits, seismograph demonstration models, prisms, magnetic stirring and heating plates, a vacuum pump and see-through free-fall tube for gravity demonstrations, digital thermometers, an ultraviolet cabinet to kill bacteria, scientific calculators for all the students and safety equipment to protect the students during experiments.

“We believe this is only the beginning of the lab project,” Roush said, “as there are remaining funds to continue making purchases throughout the year. Much of the above equipment and demonstrations are more typical of those seen in high school programs and should provide an excellent learning environment for St. Rose students for years to come.”

The Kurek family’s gift is a unique investment in the future of St. Rose School, Roush said. “[It] provides a laboratory environment with interactive experiments and engaging demonstrations. We believe it will show the students that science can be fun and will instill a desire to learn more about these subjects, and perhaps result in some [students] choosing a science-related career.”

Kelly England, principal, said the new laboratory meets all safety requirements so “students can be actively engaged in science experiments and demonstrations that will prepare them for high school.”

Science teacher Amber Hayes said the new laboratory makes it easier to teach scientific concepts to students.

“It’s a very generous gift,” Hayes said. “We’re going to continue to build on the equipment and map out the curriculum.”

Father Thomas Schliessman, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish and Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh, also serves the archdiocese as chaplain of Scouts.

“I’m very proud of our school and the Scout who put everything together,” Father Schliessman said. “I think it was a very well put together project. It is meaningful and personal for Michael, and it’s a tremendous enhancement of our science lab.

“It’s a good testimony to Scouting, to the Kurek family, to Catholic values, to everybody’s sense of generosity and the time and effort that was put into it, and to our commitment to continue to give the best educational opportunities to students,” he said. “Part of what it means to be a Catholic is to appreciate and to learn more about this world that God has given us.” †

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