When I married Julie in 1991 I married her family, too: sister Ann, nieces Kim and Laura, father Carl, our Dad. Carl and I admired each other; we had a lot in common. I related to his adventures, his wanderlust and his engineering career. And from Carl Grau, engineer, hero, friend, and Dad, I heard the Elder Praise I needed so much in my younger years.
Carl Gustav Grau hailed from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a town famous for furniture factories and a big German community. Born in 1915, Carl was the second of four children. He was bright and did well at school. He excelled at many sports; when he graduated from Sheboygan High School in 1932 he was awarded the Stubenrauch Trophy for athletic and scholastic excellence. He had been lettered for Football for four years and was the Captain of the Football team; was a veteran star on the Basketball team and was an accomplished swimmer. His school Yearbook for 1933 reported that “Cully” Grau was recognized for “…seeming natural football ability and braininess..” with “.. an outstanding mentality, as shown by his scholastic record, and a personality for leadership.” Indeed – Carl seemed to be a hero already when he was 18.
At 18, Carl was a handsome man with a beautiful girlfriend: Rhoda Hinze, who also excelled at Sheboygan High School. Carl’s other love was football, and he was so good at it that he was offered scholarships to West Point Military Academy, Notre Dame University and the University of Wisconsin. But his mother asked him not to go to school: it was his duty to work and help support the family. So, in 1933, the midst of the Depression, Carl found a job as a rod man on a survey crew. Over the next four years he became a surveyor and learned basic engineering.
Carl was bright enough to feel that he would wither in Wisconsin. In 1937 he was offered a football scholarship at the University of Idaho at Moscow. He left Sheboygan, and studied Forestry with a minor in civil engineering. While on a football tour in California, he played a game against the Univ. of California, at both Los Angeles and Berkeley, and at Stanford. By this time he had damaged his knee. Weighing snow against sun and finding Wisconsin and Idaho wanting, he transferred to the University of California at Berkeley. Studying part-time, Carl took a job at the shipyards in Alameda, where Liberty ships were being built for the European war effort.
Carl finished his civil engineering degree at Berkeley and was considered by professional football teams but his knee damage rendered him ineligible. He was also refused by the military on the same basis. But his supervisors at the shipyard appreciated his engineering and supervising skills so for much of the war he contributed to the war effort at the shipyards. Toward the end of the war he did succeed in joining the Merchant Marine in the Pacific, and was in transit when the atom bombs were dropped in Japan. He had several adventures and escapades in Japan Australia, New Guinea.
After he was demobilized in 1946, he arranged with his teenage sweetheart Rhoda, to catch a train westward to marry him. Rhoda had already visited the West coast before Carl had shipped out and liked San Fransisco. She was working for a Municipal Utility in Sheboygan and was able to find a job with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Carl joined PG&E too in 1947 but Rhoda had to leave the company because PG&E did not allow couple-employees.
Carl, Rhoda, Julie and Ann lived in an apartment in San Francisco until 1951, when they moved to a brand new sub-division in Millbrae, high up on the hillside above the airport. Carl designed and supervised the construction of their house, working on it during weekends. The Grau house is a spacious fortress of concrete and redwood, with picture windows overlooking the Bay and the Christmas tree lights of the airport. It is a fine place to watch the “string of pearls”, the long long line of wing lights of the aircraft stretched out along the length of the Bay on their landing approaches. I am in awe whenever I look at his handiwork there. I often yearned to be as practical as Carl, and as clever a civil engineer. For his entire 33 year career with PG&E he chose field work over office work, turning down opportunities for what many would have considered “career advancement”.
Rhoda died in 1978 and Carl retired from PG&E at age 65 in 1980. He spent the next 10 years traveling around the world. He walked and played golf almost every day and enjoyed football and baseball as much as he could, with the TV volume way up, being hard of hearing. In that he and I were alike, although not to the point where he would willingly wear his hearing aids. In the mid-1990’s Carl started a decade of struggle with colon cancer, which eventually claimed his life in July 2003. Life is not the same without him; without the loud TV; without his frequent “Roombah!” exclamation and without his lovely, loving smile.