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10/9 am
on KET

5:30/4:30 pm
on KET2

Charles Grawemeyer, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

The Idea Festival has brought a convergence of creative minds to Louisville, but it’s not the only celebration of ideas to come out of the River City.

The Grawemeyer Awards are international in scope and recognizes inspiring ideas in the fields of music, political science, education, religion and psychology. They were modeled after both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize.

The Grawemeyer Awards were the brainchild of businessman and philanthropist Charles Grawemeyer.

Henry Charles Grawemeyer was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1912. He was the son of German immigrants and one of seven children.

He graduated from the University of Louisville’s Speed Scientific School in 1934.

His junior year Grawemeyer became a co-op student at a local business, Reliance Paint and Varnish Company (later Reliance Universal), and he took a job there after graduation.

Over the next 40 years he worked his way up the ladder to become CEO of Reliance, from which he retired in 1967.

The next year, Charles Grawemeyer started his own company – Plastic Parts, Inc. - in Shelbyville, Ky. He later increased his wealth through savvy investing.

These successes enabled him to endow the University of Louisville (U of L) Grawemeyer Awards, starting in 1984. Each annual award is $200,000, making them among the most lucrative in the world in their respective fields.

One past Grawemeyer Award-winner was former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev.

More fast facts.:

  • The Depression dashed Grawemeyer’s hopes of attending school in the East (at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), so he chose a closer but equally appealing option – to enroll at the University of Louisville’s Speed Scientific School to study engineering.
  • In addition to working at Reliance his junior year of college, Grawemeyer met his wife, Lucy, on a blind date that same year. The couple was married for 57 years and had three daughters.
  • Grawemeyer’s business, Plastic Parts, Inc., made plastic parts for furniture and automobiles. He served as president of the company until he retired in 1977.
  • The Grawemeyer Awards were created to recognize “the power of ideas” rather than reward one’s personal achievements. Each winner is required to give a free public talk in Louisville about his or her winning idea.
  • The Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition is the largest cash prize offered in its field.
  • According to "Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition: The First Twenty Years" by Karen Little (Scarecrow Press, 2007), all compositions submitted to the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition competition become the property of U of L and are archived in the Dwight Anderson Memorial Music Library. This makes the Grawemeyer Collection one of the largest new music collections in North America.
  • Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev received the Grawemeyer Award for World Order in recognition of his 1988 speech to the United Nations.
  • In addition to the Grawemeyer Awards, Charles Grawemeyer donated to U of L’s modern language department (to fund study in German language and culture) and created a Metroversity award to honor innovative college teaching in Greater Louisville.
  • U of L’s administration building is named after this outstanding alum. Grawemeyer Hall houses the office of U of L president, the university’s historical exhibits and a replica of Foucault’s pendulum. A cast of Rodin’s famous “The Thinker” sits in front of the building.
  • H. Charles Grawemeyer was very active in the Presbyterian Church. In fact, the Grawemeyer Award for religion is offered jointly by U of L and The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he served on the Board of Trustees.
  • H. Charles Grawemeyer died of cancer in 1993, at age 91. He is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

Learn more about the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards in our interview with Dr. Allan Dittmer, executive director, University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards; for more on the role of the Presbyterian Church in Louisville, watch our interview with Linda Valentine, director of Presbyterian Church (USA).

Be sure to check out our Et Ceteras on other notable U of L alums and benefactors: Johnny Unitas, Wilson Wyatt, Sr., Charles P. Farnsley and Louis Brandeis.

Program 410
Behind-the-scenes at the Louisville Ballet for the new rendition of "The Brown-Forman Nutcracker"; Versailles artist Alexa King, sculptor of the legendary horse Barbaro at Churchill Downs; the internationally-acclaimed Grawemeyer Awards at the University of Louisville; and the comedic genius behind Comedy Caravan, where Louisvillians have laughed for more than 20 years. (#410)