Mark Nowogrodzki is a Renaissance man transported into the 20th/21st centuries. You will often see this distinguished white-haired gentleman in the neighborhood walking with his distinctive gold-handled cane.
Mark was born in 1920 in Warsaw, studied German and Latin in high school, and focused on a future as an electrical engineer. He went to Grenoble for a year of university study, returned to Poland to do some mountain hiking, and got stuck there when World War II broke out. His remarkable journey leaving Poland in 1940 via Trans-Siberian Railway for nine days, during which he taught himself English, to Vladivostok, then to Japan, and finally to America is a book in itself.
Mary, the daughter of family friends also left Warsaw on the same route as Mark, but later. They met again in New York and were married in 1942, just before Mark was recruited into the US Army. During his basic training he was granted US citizenship before being shipped out. Although he should have had a choice of Intelligence Service, engineering, or Officer School, he was sent as an infantryman to Africa. Since he was not attached to a specific unit, he had no mailing address, no pay and no mail. (Eventually his back pay and 25 letters from his wife reached him.)
His adventures took him from Casablanca in Morocco to Algeria and Tunisia, and then he was sent for training in strategic intelligence to a special British intelligence unit. Mark’s talents as writer and editor provided promotions up to the rank of Technical Sergeant. His assignments took him to many war theaters. Eventually, during the time of the Battle of the Bulge, an incident occurred during which he came closest to losing his life. He and an officer were collecting a captured German general and returning to their unit. An unplanned delay meant the officer’s coded pass had expired, and they were saved from instant firing by the lucky arrival of a jeep
with soldiers who could properly identify them. He earned a Bronze Star Medal for his military service.
The GI Bill enabled him to continue studies in electrical engineering and he earned both a BEE(cum laude) and an MEE at the then Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. His wife Mary became an architect and they had a son and a daughter. Mark’s career took him to Hazeltine Electronics, Phillips, and finally to RCA, where he worked until retirement.
During his 24 years at RCA he was an engineering manager in the Tube Division, working on advanced microwave tubes and satellite communications systems., as well as radars for the Apollo moon landing project. Later he led a research group and was also
involved in the management of the prestigious RCA Laboratories in Princeton, NJ, where his group developed industrial radars for steel mills and locomotives, medical diagnostics instruments for the Navy, and a successful therapeutic treatment for cancer, among other projects. He and his family moved to our block in 1955, and after 59 years, he has no plans to leave.
This endlessly fascinating man of 94 years travels frequently to Albany and Ithaca to visit his grandchildren, nurtures his abiding hobby harvesting and cooking wild mushrooms, now through his grandson’s enthusiastic endeavors. (He gave up his passion for downhill skiing at age 80.)
What is retirement? For Mark it means continuing selfemployment, translating fiction, memoirs, documents, dissertations, and poetry from his many languages: Polish, English, German, Yiddish, and French. (We ignore the high school Latin.) It means volunteering weekly at the Institute for Jewish Research working in their archives. It means encouraging his talented daughter, Susan, in her ceramics studio. It means weekly bridge, which he has enjoyed since high school. It means supporting and encouraging his four grandchildren, and even providing a poem on fruit flies for his granddaughter’s Ph.D. thesis :
Sing praise for the humble fruit fly:
Though with a tiny brain,
it teaches us the “what” and “why”
of nature’s vast domain.
Whether Darwin or creation,
whether “great design” or chance,
its many generations
our knowledge help advance.
Oh, what a humbling feeling
that reason does defy,
that nature’s highest being
learns wisdom from a fly…