Road scholar

Decades of civil engineering work on behalf of the citizens of Wayne County initially were inspired by alum’s drafting classes in high school.

It is no secret that roads, highways and bridges in Michigan are generally in rough shape. It’s also not a secret that funding the repair and replacement of Michigan roads is a subject of great debate for residents and for politicos in Lansing and in other seats of government who make those funding decisions. 

For one Notre Dame alum, aside from those funding woes, there never is any debate on what it takes to get some of those projects done, especially those in Wayne County.

That’s because Ron Agacinski, a 1974 graduate of Notre Dame, is director of engineering for the county’s road commission, and he’s been working behind the scenes on many road and public works projects in Wayne County for 39 years. He also says the seeds of that engineering expertise were planted at his high school.

“Our office designs and oversees construction projects on roads and bridges,” said Agacinski, who holds bachelor and master’s degrees from Wayne State University’s College of Engineering. “We are the ‘orange barrel engineers,’ so to speak.”

He noted that while the tools of his trade now are much more sophisticated than when he started, it was his drafting classes at Notre Dame that sparked his interest in civil engineering.

“When I began as an Engineer 1 for the county, I was doing hand drafting of construction plans,” he said. “And I have to thank drafting teachers Fr. [Raymond] Ouellette and Mr. [George] Geck at NDHS for giving me that head start. I eventually advanced up to Engineer 7, deputy director and then director of engineering. I also work as the county’s planning engineer and schedule major road- and bridge-improvement projects.”

One of those projects began with a freak accident in River Rouge in 2015 when a bascule bridge accidentally was lowered by an operator—later found out to be drunk—as a freighter was passing on the Rouge River. The bridge was heavily damaged and remained in the upright position blocking traffic in both directions on Jefferson Avenue for nearly three years due to the complexity of the work involved in its eventual repair.

“It was a very technical engineering process to get it designed and bid out,” said Agacinski in a news article published by the Southgate News-Herald. He cited the amount of force that severed steel parts during the accident and the workload involved in rebuilding it. “Bridges in Florida and Illinois have experienced similar high-impact accidents in the past, too,” he said.

Agacinski was a member of the design team for the bridge carrying the runway and taxiway over John D. Dingell Drive at Metro Airport. He’s also performed design work on several railroad bridges over roadways, and designed rehabilitation work on many movable span (drawbridge and swing span) bridges in the county. And in 1985, he initiated the computer-aided-drafting (CAD) office for the county’s engineering division.

A longtime member of the Grosse Pointe community, Agacinski and his wife, Patricia, a retired pediatric nurse, have been married for 35 years. He’s also proud to talk about his children.

“Joseph ND’03 is my oldest at 34 years old,” he said. “Joe is a sergeant in the United States Army as well as a professional bassoonist with the Army’s orchestra. He is currently posted in Anchorage, Alaska, after being in Germany for the past five years. Katherine, our middle child, is currently working at Grosse Pointe South High School as a paraprofessional in special education. She was born in El Salvador, and was adopted by us at 9 months of age. She was just married and lives with her husband in Grosse Pointe Woods. Finally, Brian, who is our youngest, is a chef, specializing in sushi along with Japanese and Korean cuisine. He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was adopted by us at 6 months of age. He also lives in Grosse Pointe Woods.”

Meanwhile, back to discussing NDHS, Agacinski, whose three brothers also attended Notre Dame (Robert ND’65, Thomas ND’72 and David ND’79), had more props for his high school and for a couple of other teachers he had there.

“From ND, I learned that hard work and perseverance is required to succeed and, most importantly, that math is fun, thanks to Mr. [Mark] Recor and Mr. [Roy] Johnson,” he said. 

Asked if he had any specific memories about legendary NDHS English teacher Conrad Vachon, Agacinski responded: “Am I the only NDHS alum who did not take a course from Mr. Vachon?!” 

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About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years ( Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame, visit the school's home page at