Charles Grawemeyer was born in Louisville, Ky., in 1912 to immigrant German parents. He was one of seven children.
His keen investment sense and entrepreneurial spirit shone early. As a 12-year-old, he bought chickens and sold their eggs to neighbors; he convinced other neighbors to sub-lease unused garage space, which he then rented to people needing storage room. The enterprise earned enough for young Grawemeyer to have a garage built for his parents. He also sub-leased this space.
Grawemeyer was a diligent, hard-working high school student bent on traveling east for an engineering degree. The Great Depression sunk his plans. So he chose the affordable, close-to-home option of attending the University of Louisville’s Speed Scientific School, where he biked to school, unable to afford bus fare. He graduated in 1934.
In his junior year, he met his wife, Lucy, on a blind date. They were married for 57 years and had three daughters.
During that same junior year, he started as a co-op student at a local company, Reliance Paint and Varnish Company. The firm eventually became Reliance Universal, an international coatings company. Grawemeyer advanced from co-op to chairman in a 40-year career at Reliance. In 1967, he retired from the company and the following year founded his own venture, Plastic Parts Inc., in nearby Shelbyville, Ky.
Throughout his life, Grawemeyer was known for asking penetrating questions and for never raising his voice. He was a devoted husband and father, a Presbyterian active in church affairs, and a lover of music, books, art and travel.
A quiet man, unassuming by nature, he has been described as being remarkable by trying to be unremarkable.
His funeral, on Dec. 11, 1993, provided the final glimpse of this remarkably unselfish man. It was populated by Louisville business, civic, church and education leaders-and by weathered farmers in broad brimmed hats, all of whom he had befriended over his lifetime. Then U of L President Donald Swain spoke to the assemblage about Grawemeyer’s awards:
“To a remarkable extent, he put his personal stamp on the awards, which surely are his shining legacy. They are devoted to the beauty of creativity and the power of great ideas to change the world. The awards incorporate his simple conviction that the judgment of lay persons-not academic experts-ought to be decisive in the selection of award winners. From this day forward, we will honor his memory by doing what he wanted us to do most of all: exalt the life of the mind, consider great ideas, reward creativeness.”