Kettering Community Mourns Loss of Professor Henry ‘Doc K’ Kowalski

Doc K was by far the most passionate and brazen supporter of the FIRST Robotics Community Center and Team 1506, Metal Muscle.”

Bob Nichols, Director of FIRST Robotics Community Center

It is with great sadness that the Kettering Community shares the news that Dr. Henry Kowalski, Doc K as everyone affectionately called him, passed away with his beloved dog Cookie at his side on Monday, May 4 at the age of 83.

A professor of mechanical engineering and a cornerstone of the University for more than half a century before retiring in 2015, Doc K will be remembered for his innovative and engaging teaching methods, his lasting role within and impact on the FIRST Community Center and his genuine commitment and care for the success of everyone around him – especially students.

In a letter to students, staff, faculty and alumni this week, University President Dr. Robert K. McMahan said:

“He was unwavering in his commitment to our students and their success. One of his great passions was FIRST, and he was the lead mentor for the Metal Muscle, Team 1506, for many years. He was a passionate advocate for the team as well as a tireless and devoted mentor, always pushing it to innovate and excel, but also always deeply devoted to all of its members and their personal success. He understood innately that FIRST taught lessons beyond those that students simply needed to be successful in the competition. He knew that what it – and he – was really doing was helping to shape their lives, and to provide for them a glimpse into a future that could be.” 

“We will miss him. We will miss his ‘direct’ style – he never minced words, but behind that veneer of obstinacy was an ever-so-subtle grin and one of the biggest hearts I have ever known. We will miss his passionate and uncompromising advocacy for the University and for our students. Doc K has shaped so many lives over so many generations.”

In addition to serving as faculty advisor for Kettering’s FIRST robotics team, he also worked diligently to secure scholarships for students who couldn't afford participation fees. In May 2015, the University unveiled its Honor Wall in the Great Court of the Campus Center of which Doc K was one of the inaugural faculty honorees.

“Doc K was by far the most passionate and brazen supporter of the FIRST Robotics Community Center and Team 1506, Metal Muscle,” said Bob Nichols, Director of FIRST Robotics Community Center. “He was truly beloved by his students at Kettering because he cared deeply about them.  He will be deeply missed.”

“He is the reason I became a mentor on 1506 and taught me that we all have more to give and help guide students,” said John Wolfert, Assistant Director for FIRST Robotics and mentor for Mental Muscle. “Doc was the real deal.”

Longtime colleague and friend Venetia Petteway of University Advancement recently had lunch with Doc K at his favorite lunch spot, Dom’s Diner. 

“He loved Kettering with all he had in him,” she said. “He will be greatly missed.”

According to a Facebook post by his daughter Shelley (along with her siblings Sean and Stacey) on May 5, the family will hold off on any services until such time that everyone can be together to honor him.