A great architect and a great friend: Legat Architects’ Casey Frankiewicz concludes four decades of getting the details right, setting the bar for excellence, and treating everyone with warmth and respect.
When Ted Haug walked into the Waukegan, Illinois studio of Legat Architects for the first time in 1983, he didn’t know much about the firm. Then he saw Casey Frankiewicz, whom he had known at college, and thought to himself, “Wow. This must be a great firm.”
What Ted knew, and what hundreds of employees, clients, and business partners would come to discover in the ensuing decades, was that Frankiewicz is a mentor and an ally whose passion for architecture is equaled only by his compassion for people.
Those honored enough to interact with Frankiewicz, whether it was planning a multimillion-dollar project or talking over a meal, got to know a designer, organizer, planner, and leader . . . but also a family man, doo-wop and classic car devotee, and baseball fanatic. The pride he expressed in a floor plan or drawing, they learned, matched that he had for his wife’s quilting or his two sons’ accomplishments from elementary school piano recitals and high school tennis games to college projects and workforce achievements.
October 15, 2021 marks Frankiewicz’s 40th anniversary at Legat, as well as his retirement. Though a survey of Legat’s employee roster reveals many different stories about Frankiewicz, certain words and phrases appear repeatedly: “patient,” “personable,” “a thinker and an organizer,” “a good friend,” and above all . . . “I’m going to miss him.”
An Unbelievable Model: The Road to Legat
Casimir “Casey” Frankiewicz, the oldest of six, was born in Chicago’s Norwood Park, a tight-knit Polish Catholic community. When Frankiewicz was 12, his family moved north to the suburb of Arlington Heights. He attended Hersey High School, then started his collegiate years at nearby Harper College. On Frankiewicz’s first day at Harper, his teacher dimmed the lights and played one of Casey’s favorite albums: Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. This was, after all, the seventies.
Frankiewicz transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and joined the Alpha Rho Chi fraternity. Life was busy: he served as a teaching assistant, put in many long hours in the studio, and even worked nights as a bartender at Cochran’s.
Haug arrived on campus when Frankiewicz was a teaching assistant and saw his thesis presentation. “I had never seen someone so into his design,” said Haug. “His model was unbelievable and I was thinking, ‘That’s the bar I have to get to.’”
After graduation, Frankiewicz became a field manager with Dukane Precast in Naperville. But it wasn’t long before his girlfriend Linda told him that if they were going to get married someday, he needed to find a job that used his degree.
Never Wavering: The Early Years
In September of 1981, Frankiewicz’s father showed him an employment ad in the Chicago Tribune for a firm called Legat Architects. On a Sunday, Frankiewicz and Linda typed his letter of inquiry, then drove to Legat’s Waukegan location at 24 N. Chapel Street. There, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, was a church transformed into an architectural studio. Frankiewicz dropped off the letter hoping that his would be the first his potential employers saw. When he peeked through the mail slot, he glimpsed the storied giant globe light hanging in the foyer—a detail that, 35 years later, would be carried over when Frankiewicz played a critical role in opening Legat’s new Gurnee, Illinois studio. He got a call that night—he was the first, and the company was interested. He was quickly hired.
Full immersion in the Legat culture soon followed. Frankiewicz and his coworkers often toiled all day, broke for dinner, and then came back and worked until 10 p.m. Then there were the Saturday mornings. At the same time, Frankiewicz studied for and passed his architectural licensure exam.
“The guy never wavered,” said Linda, who married Frankiewicz in 1983. “That was his passion.”
Despite the long hours, Frankiewicz took the time to show the ropes to newer employees. Haug, now chief creative officer of the firm, said, “Those first couple years, I sat next to Casey and he taught me everything. He was my mentor.”
Frankiewicz also helped create a family-like setting. There were dinners, U of I games, and baby showers. He always made himself available.
Meanwhile, Legat Architects was growing.
Close to Home: The Projects
Frankiewicz’s architectural portfolio includes hundreds of projects ranging from school assessments to the Village at Victory Lakes (Lindenhurst, Illinois), recently recognized among the best nursing homes in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
Several of the projects that Frankiewicz worked on had an impact close to home. One example is the (Gurnee) Warren Township High School Almond Campus, completed in 1997. At 344,000 square feet, it stands as not only Legat’s first standalone high school, but also the largest project in the firm’s history. Frankiewicz’s sons graduated from this school, as did the children of two coworkers and even two employees.
In 2007, Frankiewicz achieved a long-time dream when he and his family moved into their new Gurnee home that he designed.
Stepping Up to the Plate
During one firmwide outing at a Chicago White Sox baseball game, a player on the Sox hit a home run. All the Legat employees stood, with one exception: Casey Frankiewicz. This bit of rebellion testifies to Frankiewicz’s loyalty to the Chicago Cubs. There is, however, an organization to which Frankiewicz has been even more devoted: Legat Architects.
Legat’s Director of Higher Education Jeffrey Sronkoski said, “Casey has repeatedly stepped up to the plate not because it was good for him, but because the firm needed it.”
A couple years ago, Sronkoski told Frankiewicz he was having trouble finding a temporary project manager for a major higher education project because staff members were so busy. Frankiewicz said, “I’ll take that on.”
“I wasn’t telling him with any expectation that he’d volunteer,” said Sronkoski. “I was just venting. And he just volunteered to lead this $47 million project!”
Another example of Frankiewicz’s commitment to the firm’s success happened in 2005 when Legat’s director of healthcare left for another firm. Frankiewicz, whose experience with healthcare projects stemmed back to the early ’80s, took on the position. Since then, Legat has expanded its reputation from a firm that works mostly on senior living projects to a trusted partner for some of Illinois’ largest healthcare systems.
When leadership determined to unite Legat’s Crystal Lake and Waukegan studios in Gurnee by building out an office space, it needed someone who would make certain that the space captured the essence of Legat . . . without breaking the budget. Enter Frankiewicz. For four months in 2016, he spent 60- to 80-hour weeks as the on-site contractor during the buildout.
“Casey worked hard to keep us within budget and shopped around for the best prices,” said Chief Financial Officer Susan Jahn. “He came up with unique ways of saving expenses, like having our old filing cabinets repainted so they looked brand new. He cared for the studio as if it was his own home.”
After the contractors had left each night, Frankiewicz, often accompanied by his wife Linda, would sweep the floor and prepare for the next day of construction. In the following years, Frankiewicz’s pride in the Gurnee studio could be observed from the mornings he watered and pruned the plants to the evenings where he sometimes did the dishes that others left behind.
One need only step into Frankiewicz’s car or walk by his desk to see how important tidiness and order are to him. Rumor has it that he has even used scissors to trim the edges of his lawn.
This focus on neatness and precision became one of Frankiewicz’s key assets as an architect. Alpha Rho Chi fraternity brother and coworker Steve Blye remembers walking into Frankiewicz’s room in the 1970s. “Most of us stopped after painting our walls,” said Blye. “Casey had a full wood-paneled room in the style of an old English pub with custom built-in furniture. And the shirts and pants in his closet were color coded!”
Not only did Blye and Frankiewicz reunite in 2013 when the former joined Legat, but Blye also admits to color coding his closet after trying out Frankiewicz’s method.
Frankiewicz’s beautifully drawn charts, plans, and diagrams set the tone for graphic excellence at Legat. The pieces, vibrant with colors and shapes, helped people grasp complex concepts whether they were plans for bringing families into ICU rooms or distilling the firm’s values.
When Legat started opening new studios in the 1990s, Frankiewicz’s organizational and diagrammatic talents proved invaluable for establishing teams and workloads across the firm. According to Brosnan, Frankiewicz was not simply assigning work—he was making sure that the next generation of architects was getting the experience it needed to excel.
Haug even refers to Frankiewicz as his “design conscience.” “Whenever I had some design challenge I couldn’t figure out,” said Haug, “I always went to Casey.”
Bringing People Together
On one December morning, members of Legat’s Gurnee studio arrived to see light strings hanging over a long table decorated with holiday-themed flower displays. Santa hats and elf headbands rested on the chairs. The arrangement, orchestrated by Frankiewicz, set the stage for the studio’s holiday party that day.
An inviting workplace was another of Frankiewicz’s calling cards. In Waukegan and Gurnee, he hosted many studio activities: pancake breakfasts that he and Linda cooked for, Fat Tuesday celebrations, holiday parties, ping-pong tournaments. He even dressed up the Gurnee studio for two themed ShareFest events: one that raised more than $5,000 for a Waukegan nonprofit community center and another that raised more than $22,000 in buying power for Northern Illinois Food Bank.
To each of these events (and every day, for that matter) Frankiewicz brought a warmth and sincerity that created a family-like setting. When he came over to an employee’s desk to talk about a project, he also expressed interest in the employee’s personal life.
Blye said, “You couldn’t ask for a more friendly, supportive, and self-effacing leader.”
Through It All . . . Baseball
Baseball has been a lifelong passion for Frankiewicz. It isn’t just the home runs and close calls that he loves. It’s the sounds and smells of the ballpark, the strategy, and especially the tradition of the game. Just mention The Sandlot and watch his eyes light up. He even still uses the classic scorekeeper shorthand to track each play of the game as it unfolds.
Frankiewicz played shortstop for the Hersey High School Huskies. It’s very possible that he and Sronkoski met on the same field—the latter played for Elk Grove High School in the same conference.
There were also many Legat softball games, highlighted by Frankiewicz and Sronkoski’s winning the 1983 Waukegan Park District city championship as members of the Bally Muck team. The Bally Muckers played other park district teams one night a week under the lights at either Dugdale Park or Belvidere Park. After every game, the team would go back to “The Muck” for pizza and beer. Frankiewicz and Sronkoski’s team also entered weekend tournaments, many of them in Wisconsin.
After he hung up his cleats, Frankiewicz helped coach his sons’ baseball (and basketball) teams, and continued to cheer on his Chicago Cubs. He was overjoyed in 2016 when his beloved team, after a 108-year dry spell, won the World Series. To show his support for the team on Halloween, he dressed as then Cubs manager Joe Maddon. The resemblance was striking.
Pause and Think
The sport of baseball has recently come under criticism for its slower, more deliberate nature. And yet these are the very qualities that attract Frankiewicz to the game. One of his favorite activities is sitting on his porch and enjoying a glass of ice water while listening to a radio broadcast of a Cubs game.
This patience carried through to Frankiewicz’s contributions at Legat. In a meeting, for instance, he would quietly sit and listen while others talked, then he would express his opinion.
“In a world where everything is moving so quickly, watching Casey’s calm deliberation has encouraged me to pause and think,” said Brosnan. “If he contributes something, it will be well thought-out and every aspect of it will have meaning.”
The Difference He Made
In 1991, Scott Steingraeber got a job offer to work at Legat’s Crystal Lake studio, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to accept it. Jeff Sronkoski, director of the Crystal Lake studio at the time, invited Steingraeber to a firmwide meeting at the Waukegan studio.
“I don’t remember much from that day,” said Steingraeber, “but what I do remember was Casey’s hospitality. He really made me feel at ease, and that I could fit in and be a valued member of the firm should I choose to take the offer extended. I did, and 30 years later, here I am!”
From now on, when people step into the doors of Legat for the first time, there will be no Casey Frankiewicz there to greet them. However, they will experience an inviting culture and a focus on excellence that Frankiewicz helped build over his 40 years with the firm. In the decades to come, every project, every kind word, and every celebration within Legat’s walls will carry with it a piece of Casey Frankiewicz.
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