He Worked Because he Liked it

Editor's note: Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations, submitted a guest column to The Scroll.

More than a decade ago, I was in downtown Minneapolis for an event one Saturday night and decided to park at a lot across 10th Street from the St. Thomas campus. It was below zero, and as I pulled into the lot I was motioned into a space by a man bundled up in a huge parka.

It was Arnold Mikulay, late ’70s, parking lot owner and member of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees. We exchanged brief greetings. Months later, when I interviewed him for a St. Thomas magazine story, I remembered that evening and I asked him, “Arnold, just what were you doing parking cars on such a cold night? You don’t have to park cars!”

Arnold Mikulay

Arnold Mikulay served on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees from 1992 to 2002. This is his fresco portrait in the atrium of Terrence Murphy Hall on the Minneapolis campus.

Arnold, the self-made millionaire, replied: “You’re right. I do it because . . . well, because it’s there. Because it’s work. Because I like it.” And then he shrugged, and we moved on to another topic.

I recalled that incident a couple of weeks ago as I sat at Arnold’s memorial service and listened to family members and friends tell stories about “Arn” and “Arnie.” Just about every story was laced with references to him as a curmudgeon – a lovable curmudgeon with a big heart, a raspy voice and a big roll of bills in his jeans, which he was most inclined to wear.

Arnold died just a few days short of 90. He didn’t park many cars in recent years, as he and his brother, Leonard, had sold most of their lots. But that will remain my enduring (and endearing) image of Arnold: a guy who parked cars for a living long after he had made his first million.

Arnold was a smart, shrewd man. He had an economics degree from St. Thomas and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. Leonard also was a St. Thomas alumnus. Sixty years ago, they began to buy property on the fringes of what then was the downtown area and established parking lots. “As the loop exploded,” Arnold said, “the property became more important.”

Some of that property was on 10th and 11th streets, and that’s why I will most remember Arnold and Leonard as the men who gave us the land for the Minneapolis campus. Okay, “gave us” is a little strong, but without their generosity (and some St. Thomas dollars) we wouldn’t be at 1000 La Salle today and our downtown campus – wherever it might be – would be much different.

What I really admired about Arnold – and, for that matter, Leonard – was his work ethic. They remind me of my dad. He is no millionaire, but he has worked just as hard, and he often held more than one job. Now 87, he still sells advertising for the church bulletin, cuts the grass, plants the garden and, if the snow isn’t too deep, clears the driveway with a shovel.

He would be the first person to tell you that he does this stuff not to pick up a few bucks or to save money but because, as Arnold Mikulay told me, “it’s there. Because it's work. Because I like it.”

God bless them!