Polachi family creates scholarship for chemistry students
By Laura Freeman ’96
Charles Polachi’s 86th birthday was approaching—and his children were stumped for gift ideas. Polachi, an accomplished chemical engineer who has visited nearly every country around the world, had reached a point in his life when he didn’t need another trinket to adorn his coffee table.
“I thought to myself, ‘What am I going to get him: Another bottle of Scotch? Another book?’” remembers his son Charles “Charley” Jr. ’75, P11, 07.
After some brainstorming, Charley and his wife, Martha ’76, along with Charley’s brothers and sisters—Ellen, Mary, Anne, Steven ’78 and Peter ’77—honored their Dad by creating a scholarship at Holy Cross, forever linking their father to an institution that he loves. The Charles A. Polachi ’43 Scholarship Fund will help future students take advantage of the high-caliber education that Holy Cross has provided to generations of scientists.
Polachi’s affection for Holy Cross began during childhood, when he—a Worcester native—spent Saturdays watching Crusader football. Later, majoring in chemistry at the College, he went on to earn his graduate degree under the tutelage of Rev. Bernard A. Fiekers, S.J., studying variations of chemical interactions that would ultimately become the basis of the detergent industry. After a stint in the Army, Polachi began working in development for Binney & Smith, a supplier of rubber, paint, ink and plastic—and, the well-known manufacturer of Crayola Crayons. He later switched to the sales side of the company (then known as Columbian Chemicals), marketing a substance called carbon black—a stabilizing compound designed to make tires more durable.
“He used to call himself a soot salesman,” recalls his son Charley—a nickname that belied the richness of his experience.
As he established the company’s plants around the globe, Polachi traveled for months at a time—ultimately touching down in every country except South Africa and Australia. His children were fascinated by the stories he told about his travels: dining on fish eyes in Japan; encountering curious locals in the Andes Mountains; or dashing into a burning hotel in Oslo to rescue a suitcase full of clothes. By the time he retired from his last position at Witco Corporation, Polachi had been issued his 12th U. S. passport.
“My motto in those days should have been: ‘Study chemistry and see the world!’” he says.
Throughout his journeys, Polachi has repeatedly been drawn back to Mount St. James because of his family connections to the College. These ties date back more than a century, to George B. Moran, who graduated from the College in 1906 and later built Kimball Dining Hall. Polachi married Moran’s daughter, Elizabeth, and three of their children attended the College. Today, the tradition continues: two of the Polachis’ granddaughters are also Crusaders: Neala ’07 and Christina, Class of 2011.
Polachi’s enthusiasm for Crusader football is as strong as his family bond. He frequently makes the trip from his home on Cape Cod to watch the games, so the October matchup against Dartmouth seemed the perfect place for his children to unveil their surprise gift.
Polachi was midway through a bowl of clam chowder when Holy Cross president, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., came by to present him with a certificate marking the scholarship’s inception—rendering him momentarily speechless.
“I was flabbergasted,” he recalls. “I’m lucky to have six wonderful children, and I’m very appreciative of what they’ve done. If this makes it easier for young kids out there who want to study chemistry, I think it’s terrific.”
Laura Freeman ’96 is a freelance writer from Wilbraham, Mass.