By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – There is heartfelt meaning behind the Eric I. Siwko Jr. Scholarship, given in his memory by his parents, Jane and Eric Siwko Sr., to graduating students from Marlborough High School (MHS). This scholarship is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. At the MHS graduation, there will be three awards — two for $1,000 and one for $500 — to graduates “who plan on continuing [their] education in the field of art or drama.”
Eric, a 1983 graduate of MHS, died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 41. It was most likely brought on by asthma, according for his father. At the time, Eric was working as a graphic illustrator in Boston, pursuing his real passion after a stint in the military.
The Siwko family had known tragedy before losing Eric. Born in Poland, both parents survived internment and lost their fathers and other relatives during World War II.
Eric Sr. eventually moved to England, where he studied electrical and aeronautical engineering. He moved to Marlborough in 1960, by way of Canada and the West Coast. Along with his brother, he founded their Hudson-based company, Contronautics, which manufactures industrial temperature controls for furnaces that bake circuit boards.
Jane and Eric Sr. met for the first time in London while they were each there on vacation in 1960. Jane travelled there from Poland, where she worked as a teacher. Two years later, after writing long letters back and forth, Eric Sr. invited Jane to visit him in the U.S. They were married about four months later.
The Siwkos raised three sons in Marlborough: John, Eric and Stefan. Both John and Stefan earned their PhDs – John in telecommunications from UCLA, and Stefan in cancer research from Stanford University.
About Eric Jr., his father said, “He was always interested in art and took part in drama performances.”
To both his parents’ surprise, Eric joined the New York Army National Guard after graduating from MHS. After basic training, he studied chemistry at Syracuse University.
“He thought that he would not be able to make a living on art so he chose chemistry,” explained Eric Sr. “But just like Bill Gates, he said enough with school, and left after two years.”
He joined the U.S. Army and saw the world, including Hawaii, Korea, the Philippines and Japan. In his early 20s Eric developed asthma.
In 1987, Eric received an honorable discharge, and returned to Massachusetts. He entered a program in visual design and illustration at UMass Dartmouth, from which he graduated cum laude. While going through this program, he joined the Air National Guard to help fund his schooling.
After graduation in 1994, Eric joined Contronautics, where he was in charge of graphic design. In 2003, he started his own business, Eric Siwko Illustrator. He worked on book covers, having received a diploma from the Institute of Children’s Literature. He drew cartoons, greeting cards and corporate pieces.
The Siwkos have a room in their house filled with Eric’s graphic design work, photographs, mementoes and awards.
When Eric died, the Siwkos decided to use the inheritance from his estate to fund a scholarship at MHS.
“We wanted to pay back for the excellent education provided to him by the school,” his mother said.
Eric Sr. invested the funds; each year they use the dividends for the scholarship award.