19th and Valleyhigh: The Rochester corner that Jack Remick built
Jack Remick, one of the Fastenal Five, has used his wealth to develop and transform 19th Street in northwest Rochester.
ROCHESTER — When the Diocese of Winona-Rochester announced earlier this month it was building a new, $8 million pastoral center in Rochester, Bishop Robert Barron made a point of highlighting what had made the project possible: A gift of land and money from an anonymous donor.
Guessing that donor's name was not hard.
Anyone familiar with development along 19th Street in Northwest Rochester where the diocese’s plans to build its new headquarters could make an educated guess: The donor was Jack Remick.
Remick confirmed as much in an interview.
“It’s obvious I own the land,” Remick said. “I guess he (the bishop) felt like he didn’t want to give me more advertising than I wanted. Everybody knows what it is.”
It is true that Remick, formerly an IBM engineer and one of the Fastenal Five investors who parlayed a nuts-and-bolts business into a multimillion-dollar empire, needs more publicity like he needs a hole in the head. Still, when the PB called to confirm his identity as the anonymous donor for the pastoral center, Remick, 85, answered the phone and spoke for the next 20 minutes.
His donations toward the diocese’s new headquarters fit a pattern. Within the last decade, a constellation of Catholic institutions affecting the diocese and K-12 and higher education have sprouted at or near the intersection of 19th Street Northwest and Valleyhigh Drive, making it the region’s Catholic Corner.
Along with the center, which is projected to open in 2024, Remick’s donations of land and money have also made possible the building of the new Lourdes High School, a $34 million project that opened in 2013, and the opening of Saint Mary’s University-Rochester campus.
Add to that his financial support for the Jeremiah Program, which supports single moms in college, and Rochester Athletic Center, a facility he founded that is owned by Remick and his son, Matt Remick, a distinctive picture emerges.
Call it the Street that Jack Built.
The Rev. Monsignor Gerald Mahon, rector of the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, called Remick a “common man” in the best sense of the phrase.
Remick has described his good fortune in being a ground-floor investor in Fastenal as “winning the lottery.” Mahon said. At the time, the venture was uncertain, and Remick didn’t even know if he would get his money back. He had given the money to his fellow IBMer, Bob Kierlin, to be “responsive to a friend.” Mahon said.
“He wants to be a common man. He’s never exaggerated his generosity, He's never been wanting to need a lot of applause. He has a purpose greater than himself,” Mahon said.
“They (Jack and his wife, Mary Ann) do much of this together, particularly in higher education, but I find him to be such an ethical man.” Mahon said.
The area along 19th Street was once largely farmland. Remick said he wasn’t guided by any single vision for developing his properties.
Originally, he saw it as offering commercial opportunities to build apartments and “all that stuff.” But over time, as different opportunities presented themselves, Remick seized on projects that accorded with his business sense and values.
“As time goes on, certain things pop up,” Remick said, “and you just do it differently.”
The street covers many areas of human endeavor, whether it be the religious and spiritual (pastoral center), the educational (Lourdes High School, Saint Mary’s University-Rochester and the Jeremiah Program), and the physical (the RAC).
“This is kind of a corny saying, but when I get up there and have to meet Saint Peter, and he tells me everything he’s done good for me, I want to have something positive to say rather than ‘I just drove the biggest car in town,'” Remick said.
Not that all of his endeavors have worked out. The once-billed Cascade Meadow facility and surrounding wetlands were originally viewed as an environmental center, but the foot traffic never materialized and “it just kind of fizzled.” So rolling with the punches, Remick found a new purpose for the building as a campus for Saint Mary’s University-Rochester.
Now working in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, the campus is home to a program that educates and develops physician assistants.
According to news reports, the building was valued at $3 million when he gave it to SMU. In addition, Jack and Mary Ann donated $5 million — $4.4 million to building a two-story addition and $600,000 for program development.
“It just kind of evolved,” Remick said. “Some of the first uses didn’t turn out, and so we just ended up doing things differently. So it’s just kind of a moving target, but I think it’s pretty much set.”
Remick has no problems turning down projects. When he bought 24 acres adjacent to the new Lourdes for $1.85 million in 2014, it gave rise to speculation that a new athletic complex for the Eagles’ athletic program would be built on it. But Remick put an end to such talk.
“People have all kinds of conjecture, and I just sort of say, ‘Dream on,’” Remick is quoted as saying in the Rochester Post Bulletin.
Remick said if there has been a downside to the 19th Street development, it is the traffic that it has generated — or at least that is what the city has communicated to him.
“I don’t think the city likes me because we created too much traffic,” Remick said, but added about the projects he has helped bring to fruition, “I think it’s done some good things for the city. We're all part of this town.”