Melvin Alexander Rakowski, a Korean War veteran who founded a photography business in Toledo where he used his computer skills to convert his studio from film to digital as early as the 1990s, died on Nov. 14 at Kingston Care Center in Sylvania. He was 92.
He died from complications after suffering a stroke, his son, Mark Rakowski, said.
Mr. Rakowski, who was known as "Mel" by his family and peers, was an adventurous, independent spirit who worked for himself the majority of his life.
After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, Mr. Rakowski, a Toledo native who graduated from Woodward High School in 1946, returned home and went to work at Willys-Overland Motors.
He held several jobs and was most notably a programmer for IBM mainframe computers.
But even while he was working at Jeep, Mr. Rakowski sought to start his own business. He did so by founding Rak-Now Inc., a manufacturing business that made vinyl cue stick cases and throw pillows. He also separately started a screen-printing venture.
"He always wanted to make a living on his own," according to his son, who grew up in Toledo and now lives outside of Ann Arbor. "He was a very independent guy and he never wanted to work for anybody else or be beholden to anybody else. He always wanted to do his own thing and the motivation was to just be his own man."
Mr. Rakowski was an avid outdoorsman and he enjoyed outdoor adventure with his family, his son said. One fishing trip near Lake Erie when Mark was seven years old was particularly memorable to him, he said.
"We were going back somewhere out near Lake Erie," Mr. Rakowski said. "And there was a pack of wild hogs back in there. And the hogs were almost tipping us over because they were three or four hundred pound hogs. So he grabbed a 2x4 out of the Jeep and jumped out and broke the 2x4 against the lead hog's head and it turned the whole pack and they took off."
The two later continued exploring together and became particularly attracted to caves and cave photography. Mr. Rakowski was always looking for the next adventure, his son said, noting that he loved camping throughout different parts of the country.
Growing up on Higgins Street in Toledo in the 1940s, Mr. Rakowski's adventurous spirit was no different, according to Tom Kleparek, Mr. Rakowski's nephew, who was 15 years his junior and was more like a younger brother than a nephew. The two grew up together in the same house while Mr. Kleparek's father was overseas in the Marine Corps.
"It was a great life," he said. "We were together. We were real close. And we remained close throughout the years. He was very outgoing. He was always friendly with my friends and he introduced me to his friends and when I was a kid I would bug them too."
"He had a lot of friends and he did a lot of things," Mr. Kleparek added.
Even while at war, Mr. Rakowski sought to bring kindness to people, Mr. Kleparak said.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952 during the Korean War. He received radio training in the Signal Corp at Camp Gordon in Georgia. Once he was in Korea, he gathered extra food and medicine to give to residents of poor villages he was near.
"He would do anything for anybody," Mr. Kleparek said. "Those kids in Korea were starving. He was very giving."
Mr. Rakowski developed a passion for Judo in Korea and brought his talents back to the United States.
After he earned a second-degree black belt in the martial art, he became a founding member of three separate nonprofit Judo clubs in Toledo including Judan Judo, which was founded in coordination with Toledo police officers. The mission of the organization was to help troubled youth engage in the sport and remain involved in a positive activity.
Mr. Rakowski married his wife Dorothy (Huntley) Rakowski in 1950. They remained married for 56 years until Mrs. Rakowski died in 2006. Mr. Rakowski spent his entire life in Toledo and Bedford Township. He worked in photography until he retired at age 86.
Mr. Rakowkski said he hopes his father is remembered as a caring individual who lived an adventurous life.
"He was always doing exciting things and was always willing to help out others," he said.
Surviving are his son Mark; daughter Holly Monroe; seven grandchildren; two great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.
Mr. Rakowski will not have a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic, but family members will celebrate his life sometime when it is safe to do so.
The family suggests contribution to any arts organization or the American Civil Liberties Union.
This is a news story by Brooks Sutherland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org