Mike and Eileen Kolakowski
It was the most natural thing in the world for Mike and Eileen Kolakowski of Wallingford to make a significant donation to support Connecticut Children’s new Infusion & Dialysis Center: If there were an award for the all-American family, it would be named for Mike and Eileen.
They would shy away from such a description and tell you that they are just ordinary folks doing what any family would do (being modest is an all-American attribute, after all). But consider the circumstances: The Kolakowskis were high-school sweethearts and who are still happily married 42 years later. The only time they’ve been apart is when they went to different colleges, he to New Jersey and she to Rhode Island. And even then, they visited each other on weekends. After graduating, they married and had four children—two of each, of course, just to keep the ideal family balance. And now they have two grandchildren, with a third on the way.
And, as befits an all-American family, Mike has worked for the same company his entire life: KBE Building Corporation (formerly Konover Construction), a firm he ended up buying with two partners.
What does the all-American couple do in their spare time? “We have our kids come over, or we visit them,” Eileen says. “Family is very important to us,” Mike says, “engaging with them whether at their place or ours. We really love the grandkids.”
It may not surprise you to learn that the Kolakowskis have a full baseball diamond in their back yard. And each year Mike takes his sons, and now his sons-in-law too, to Omaha for the College Baseball World Series.
Their approach is neatly summed up in a phrase Mike offered as a kind of family motto: “Be respectful, do the right thing, and work hard.”
With that kind of orientation, it’s no surprise that they made a donation to the Infusion & Dialysis Center. “Eileen and I have a very soft spot in our hearts for children,” Mike says. “We’re fortunate enough to have healthy kids, and this is us trying to do the right thing, supporting people who could use a little help, particularly young people.”
Building a Career by Building a State
Mike had originally planned to major in finance at Farleigh Dickinson University, but when he visited the school with his father and saw they had a program dedicated to construction, he told his dad he wanted to change his major. In his junior year, he took a summer job working for Konover Construction and fell in love with the business. Over time, he began running the construction operations of the broad-based development company, until, in 2007, he and two partners bought the construction arm of the company and renamed it KBE Building Corporation (with KBE representing the initials of the three principals). Since then, the company has grown considerably. It boasts more than 200 employees in several locations and has built projects in California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Washington state, Washington DC, and West Virginia.
There are, in fact, few places you can go in Connecticut without running in to a building built by KBE. When the company opened in 1959 in Connecticut, it was natural that most of the firm’s work would be in the state during those early years. “We had a little contest back in 2008 or ’09,” Mike says. “Each manager had a team, and you had to have your team run around with a camera and take a picture of as many KBE buildings as you could find. Eileen and I would be out at dinner or with friends and I would jump out of the car to take a photo of a building we were going by. The thing it showed was how many projects we’ve been a part of in the 30-plus years I’ve been here. The way you know you’ve been around a while is when you have built a building, renovated it, demolished it, and built a new building in its place. And there are a few of those. Lately, it’s more so that than not.”
A Desire to Help Kids
Eileen trained and worked as a nurse, but once the children were born, she decided she needed to stay at home to raise them and took a hiatus from nursing. Once the kids were grown, she went back to working as a substitute school nurse until the grandchildren were born. Then frequent visits to the grandchildren meant she gave up working again. But she is still heavily involved in volunteering, particularly at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which was established by philanthropist and actor Paul Newman to provide camping experiences for children with serious medical issues. The camp, in Ashford, Connecticut, was, of course, built by KBE. In fact, Mike was the project manager for that work
Their desire to support a state-of-the-art Infusion & Dialysis Center at Connecticut Children’s only reaffirms their love of children.
“It’s important if it takes even one iota of stress away from a family,” Eileen says.
“Having been in the medical profession, Eileen has an understanding of the Infusion Center,” Mike says. He doesn’t have that background himself, but the couple did an in-depth visit to the Medical Center and that convinced them: “We just said, ‘This is the right thing to do. This is a good thing.’”
For more information on the Infusion and Dialysis Center or to make a donation, please visit the campaign webpage.