One couple has spent decades involved with St. Cloud State University, and has made a gift that will continue their legacy for generations to come.
Art and Barb Grachek have made a $250,000 gift to St. Cloud State to create the Art ’62 ’64 and Barb ’62 ’63 Grachek Mental Health & Wellness Lounge in honor of their parents, Stephen and Alvina Grachek and Melvin and Anna Svela. The gift comes after decades of the couple supporting the University in numerous ways — from scholarships in their communication studies department, to supporting athletics and the development of Husky Plaza, and beyond.
Education is important to both Art and Barb Grachek, and is a value instilled in them from a young age.
“I came from a family and a community environment in which opportunity for education and, quite frankly, valuing of education probably wasn’t that great,” Art said. “It was sort of a miracle for me to be able to go to college.”
He was only one of 11 students in his 92-student high school class that went on to college. His parents, having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, both had less than a sixth-grade education.
Nevertheless, when Art went to St. Cloud State, they supplied him with “unconditional support.” When Art, who lived off campus, would go home on weekends to do his laundry and see his family, they’d always send him back with a $5 or $10 bill — enough to feed him for a week “in those days” — and a tank full of gas in his car thanks to his dad’s service station.
“There was this kind of an assumption that, ‘Yes, you will go to college,’ and secondly, ‘We will support you,’” Art said.
Neither of Barb’s parents had graduated from eighth grade, but they still encouraged their children to go to school and helped them apply.
“It was assumed that we would probably go to school,” Barb said. “I didn’t have any money, but my mom said ‘We’ll make it somehow.’”
Barb worked different jobs at St. Cloud State while in school, from clerical positions to dorm assistant, and her mother would also mail her $5 or $10.
When she finished her bachelor’s degree and was encouraged by the University to pursue her master’s, Barb was unsure at first.
“I thought, ‘I can’t do that,’” she said. “And again, Mom came to the front and said, ‘You’re going to school.’ So, I went to school.”
That push to obtain as well as value an education would last throughout the couple’s entire professional lives. Both Art and Barb would go on to teach for decades — many of them spent at St. Cloud State, and their daughters would graduate from St. Cloud State as well. They both credited student organizations and activities with helping them achieve success — as well as helping them find each other.
The couple met through the Newman Club, a Catholic student organization during their time on campus.
“I suppose we can say without Newman we wouldn’t have met,” Barb said.
“Going to school, this kind of gave us a reason to stay in school and to become more involved and to do things. To this day, so many of our friends are what we call ’The Ol’ Newman-ites,’” Art added. “So, through those kinds of things, St. Cloud State really helped me to move forward — certainly prepared me then to go on to get my master’s and then my PhD, and enjoy a career in education.”
While the Gracheks have routinely given back to their alma mater over the years, the push to support student mental health started a few years back. CentraCare, another entity the couple is involved with, held a drive for major expansion, during which the Gracheks became involved with the mental health area. Later on, after seeing the renovations in Eastman Hall and meeting with St. Cloud State School of Health and Human Services Dean Shonda Craft, the Gracheks decided students needed to have mental health considerations made as well.
Craft cited the COVID-19 pandemic along with nationally and globally discussed racism and civic unrest as just some of the hurdles students face right now.
“We know our students are going through a lot,” she said. “Mental health has never been more important for our students.”
“I think it’s an area where people don’t immediately jump in to help, even with your insurance agencies,” Barb Grachek said. “I mean, that’s not on top of the list of taking care of people in this world. So, you go to help those who are in need.”
Craft said the goal is for students to see Eastman Hall as a “center for wellness” that has services for physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. She said the Gracheks’ gift will go toward promotional materials, professional development to train more faculty and staff in evidence-based practices, and will benefit clinical mental health programs as well as other SHHS programs.
“(Art and Barb) are really investing in the future of our students, right now,” Craft said. “I could not have imagined a better gift than this.”
An event took place Wednesday, Oct. 13 on the third floor of Eastman Hall to celebrate the Art ’62 ’64 and Barb ’62 ’63 Grachek Mental Health & Wellness Lounge.
Hayley Pierce-Ramsdell, who graduated from St. Cloud State’s clinical mental health counseling program in August, was on hand to thank the Gracheks on behalf of SHHS students.
“Thank you for your gracious donation,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why myself and so many other students here at SCSU feel that sense of home.”
Scott Ramsdell, a second-year graduate student in the clinical mental health counseling program — and Hayley Pierce-Ramsdell’s father — was also on hand to thank the Gracheks. A retired police officer, Scott Ramsdell said he has been working with the criminal justice program at St. Cloud State on mental health. As someone who struggled with his own mental health and wellness in the past, Ramsdell said the goal is to work with law enforcement personnel on their mental health, personal wellness and crisis intervention.
“It’s a very exciting time,” he said. “And all of these direct impacts, all of this research, all of this outreach would not be possible if it were not for donors such as Art and Barb.”
St. Cloud State President Dr. Robbyn Wacker echoed those sentiments.
“I have to say, in my over 25 years in higher education, I have never met a couple who made a difference while they were here serving the institution, and were committed to continuing to serve after they retired,” she said. “It’s really remarkable.”
“We work with donors quite often, and one of the things I say often is, ‘I want you to experience joy through your giving,’” said Matt Andrew, Vice President of University Advancement at SCSU. “That is one of the most important things. And I do hope this will be remembered by you as a truly joyous day, and what you’ve given to St. Cloud State — I hope it’s given you so much back and that you truly have experienced so much joy today.”
See this and other stories in the 2020-21 St. Cloud State University Foundation Philanthropic Impact Report