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Feature

Frank Grewe and his sons.

Frank Grewe and his sons, Patrick (left) and Michael, on a whitewater rafting trip on Alaska's Mackenzie River, 2001.

Frank Grewe remembered

U loses visionary computer systems architect

By Gayla Marty

Brief, March 3, 2004

When University staff, faculty, and students log into their e-mail, apply for grants, or access their records or grades on the Web from anywhere in the world, they're touched by the genius of Frank Grewe. "To this day, schools like Wisconsin, Michigan, and California are trying to match Frank's achievement," said associate vice president Steve Cawley at Grewe's memorial service. Grewe, who died unexpectedly on February 24, came to the Twin Cities campus in 1969, earned a bachelor's degree in biometrics, and then put his education to use at the University for the next quarter of a century. Grewe put together a solid team to keep the University ahead of the fast-moving Internet and computer technology wave--in his group of seven, the last hire was nine years ago. "He was really, really good to work for," says Kevin O'Rourke, one of Grewe's team members. "He was very intelligent and able to see the big picture. He knew what we could do and made space for us to do it." "He changed the paths of so many people," says Renee Heggem, a technical specialist in the Office of Information Technology, whom Grewe hired in 1978, when she was considering a major in dental hygiene or physical therapy. "He was always willing to give you a shot at something you didn't already know how to do--to learn something." The limitation of a small staff seemed to be an advantage to Grewe--yet another incentive to automate every possible task and challenge his group. "Frank embodied a rare combination of technical and team-building savvy," says deputy chief information officer Shih-Pau Yen. "My initial encounter with Frank was a technical argument," says Mark McCahill, head of Java and Web Services at the University. It was time for everyone at the University to have an e-mail account and Grewe was smart enough to realize a complementary directory service was needed so people could find each other's e-mail addresses. He thought one big computer was needed to do that; McCahill disagreed. The U did not get one big computer, but, "what was cool and impressive was the way Frank worked it out, solved that challenge," says McCahill. "I have so much respect for his intelligence and how he worked." McCahill and others were to witness a pattern in which Grewe would be presented with a challenge, see the big picture, anticipate changes ahead, and solve the problem with existing technology while keeping his staff small. One of the first in the nation to develop the single-user sign-on for such systems as e-mail, Forms Nirvana, PeopleSoft, Web CT, and grants management, Grewe was most recently working on preventing spam--which accounts for 50 percent of all U e-mail--from entering University accounts. Grewe's style was large and generous. "He left an immediate and lasting impression with his large hands, big smile, and booming voice," Cawley says. "He brought vision, enthusiasm, humility, and a great sense of humor to his work." Grewe was often asked to speak at national conferences and workshops. McCahill remembers one conference in Colorado, when Grewe drove into the parking lot on his motorcycle, sunburned and splattered, after riding straight from Minnesota. "Who is that ?" someone from another school asked. "Oh, that's the guy we've got presenting on authentication tomorrow!" laughed Don Riley, then the U's chief information officer. Grewe obviously loved his work, but he also loved the outdoors and, most of all, his family. A common theme was camping trips with his sons, Michael and Patrick. "The University owes Frank and his family a debt of gratitude," says Cawley. "The work he did touches tens of thousands of people every day."


Grewe's colleagues created a scholarship fund for his college-age sons. If you wish to contribute, contact Cleo Medlock at 612-626-8024 or cleo@umn.edu, or Karen Prince at 612-625-8057 or kprince@umn.edu.