From a penniless Polish immigrant to an East County businessman and philanthropist, Nick Alexander befriended, mentored many

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - This photograph of Nick Alexander was taken before he and his wife immigrated in October 1953 to the United States.

An East County businessman, philanthropist, education advocate and gourmet died Monday, Oct. 28, one day after his 62nd wedding anniversary and one day before the 60th anniversary of his immigration to America. Nick Alexander was 87.

“He was a very, very dear friend who inspired me more in my business than anyone else,” said Steve Runyan of Erik Runyan Jewelers. “He had a winning attitude about the way to do things. He had the philosophy that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Nicolas “Nick” Alexander was born Mikolaj Woronowicz on July 6, 1926, in Ziemianie, Dizna, Poland. Born into aristocracy, Alexander’s life quickly changed when the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939.

As a runner for the Polish underground, Alexander was caught by the Germans in 1944 and imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp for 18 months. He was sent to a displaced persons camp when the camp was liberated and then to England, where he met the love of his life, Pauline Dowding.

“Marry me and come to America,” Alexander said as his marriage proposal. He and Pauline immigrated to Gresham two years later in October 1953 to start their new lives in the U.S. Their daughter, Nicola (Nikki), was born in 1958.

Alexander believed strongly in the American Dream, often speaking about how he arrived in the country as a penniless, jobless, Polish immigrant. From his humble beginning, Alexander built himself into a successful businessman and philanthropist.

For 18 years, Alexander worked his way up from sweeping floors in a cabinet-making shop. In 1971, when he was 45, Alexander launched his own company, Alexander Manufacturing, which he ran for 27 years. The company created architectural millwork for restaurants, hotels and casinos across the country.

In a 1983 Outlook column, Alexander said, “Nobody works for me, we work together. I tell my people,’ I want to be wealthy and you want to be wealthy, too.’ ”

A strong supporter of education in the Gresham area, Alexander awarded college scholarships for graduating students at Barlow High School through the Alexander Family Foundation in the early 1980s. He called it his thank you to the United States for welcoming him and giving him a chance to make it.

“He certainly saw the value of education and wanted to support it,” said longtime friend and former Barlow High School principal, Bob Harland. “He was very intelligent, very loyal and a fast friend.”

Alexander became involved in a variety of organizations during the 1980s and 1990s, including St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church in North Portland and the Chaine des Rotisserie.

At its peak, Alexander’s wine cellar boasted more than 3,500 bottles. He helped establish the Portland chapter of the Chaine de Rotisserie to celebrate his love of gourmet food and became one of the Chaine’s national leaders.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Nick Alexander had a fondness for gourmet food and fine wine. He also loved traveling the world with his wife.

Alexander loved to travel the world with his wife. He also enjoyed skiing and boating. He could often be found knee-deep in mud in his garden on his 2-acre property in Clackamas. He treasured his many friendships, once spending 36 hours with a friend whose wife was delivering their first son.

“He was very influential in his friendships and a mentor to many people he met,” said Arden Manning, a friend who also came to the Portland area with his English wife after serving in the Air Force during World War II.

Longtime friend Terry McCall created a book filled with Alexander witticisms. Some reference his love of wine.

“If Christ’s first miracle was turning water into wine, who am I to argue?” Alexander would say.

“He had decency and a love for family,” McCall said. “He was honest, sometimes to a fault. He didn’t have much room in his life for slackers or people who didn’t pull their own weight. He was a very intelligent person, a lot of it self-taught. He had this great sense of humor and a good laugh.”

For four years, Alexander received care and support at Town Center Village. A celebration of life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 4, at Holy Family Catholic Church, 7525 S.E. Cesar Chavez Blvd. A reception will follow.

Alexander is survived by his wife, Pauline Alexander; daughter, Nicola (Nikki) Alexander Klutho; son-in-law, William Klutho; and granddaughters, Adrienne Klutho and Anna Klutho.

Remembrances may be made to the Nicolas Alexander Scholarship Fund at De La Salle North Catholic High School, 7528 N. Fenwick, Portland, OR 97217.

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