A Generous Match - Reflecting on a fortunate life, alumnus seeds new opportunity with matching-gift scholarships

Warren Sedlacek
You don’t have to talk to Warren Sedlacek long to hear him refer to “fortunate circumstances,” and if the topic is his life, the term comes up again and again. Certainly the man has worked hard, but he seems bemused about his success and the happy turns his life has taken so far.

And as he tells it, a great portion of that good fortune started at Purdue. 

Sedlacek had been diligent enough in his suburban Chicago high school that he had met all his credit requirements by January of his senior year. The school would not allow him to graduate until June, but war loomed, and Sedlacek was intent on getting to college first. 

“Purdue did a very nice thing for me,” he recalls. “They welcomed me, let me take the orientation exam, and let me enroll even without my high school degree. The grade I got on that test qualified me for a scholarship, and that made it economically possible for me to go.”

Once enrolled in the chemical engineering program, Sedlacek also applied for the Navy’s V-1 program and was accepted. This program morphed into the V-i2 program in July 1943  (“Kind of like the ROTC is now, except you were on active duty,” he said).

That program “made life different,” he says. “We got up every morning and did calisthenics at 6 a.m. and then cleaned our rooms and had breakfast. We did not have leave in the evenings, so I got myself in all sorts of activities, which gave me the opportunity to get out in the evening.”

Sedlacek was co-photographic editor for Debris and a photographer for the Exponent. He was in the marching band, playing bass clarinet for Spotts Emrick, although that did not last long. 

“Spotts came to me and said, ‘Sedlacek, you do not want to play that old bass clarinet. It is big, long and heavy.’ I thought he’d get me on the regular clarinet. Instead, he thought the instrument for me was the glockenspiel. It weighs four times as much as the bass clarinet. But the glockenspiel played right behind the twirlers, which was kind of nice.” 

Sedlacek earned his B.S. in chemical engineering in 1945. He was sent by the Navy to Panama on his first flight, taking his first trip abroad. He worked as a deck officer on a subchaser and then spent three months on a destroyer escort in Florida before being released from service. Talks with his Purdue professors led him to Universal Oil Products, where he worked in processing before being sent back for the Korean War and assigned as gunnery officer on the USS Edmonds (DE-406). It was eventually home-ported in Honolulu, where he met his wife. 

Sedlacek went back to Universal Oil Products after that, but his experience in Japan led the company to redirect him into marketing. The company was reopening a business in Japan, and Sedlacek was the good fit that his superiors imagined him to be. He spent nearly 40 years in marketing, with a further assignment of marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa and eventually, as senior vice president of marketing for the whole world, retiring in 1992.

“These assignments gave me the opportunity to travel frequently to all the far corners of the world, to experience many diverse cultures, and to meet and become friends with engineers of many nationalities and educations,” Sedlacek says. “I cherish these friendships and maintain some of them today.”

“My whole career started with my time at Purdue,” Sedlacek says. “I thought, I have had the good fortune of ending up with monies that I really do not need for anything, and I wanted to make it possible for other people to have the good luck to go to Purdue, get a good education and find a career for themselves.”

The bulk of Sedlacek’s $1.09 million gift will be used for a relatively new matching-gift program for merit-based scholarships in the College of Engineering. Any donor who makes a gift will have that gift matched due to Sedlacek’s generosity. 

Sedlacek also established two scholarships, one for a merit-based general engineering scholarship, and another for engineers who play in the marching band, even if it is not the glockenspiel.