The Talk on Tenth

A Generational Gift

Marisa Novak Bolsters English Department's Vault with Donation to Honor Legacy of Werner "Rip" H. Graf '49

Marquette Catholic’s English department received an early Christmas gift earlier this month. It did not arrive on the back of a reindeer-pulled sleigh with a jolly, bearded man from the North Pole. Instead, a heavy-on-the-horsepower black pickup bound from suburban Nashville came to rest on 10th Street. Its poshly-dressed pilot opted for the front door over the chimney and all the children inside were wide awake.

Marisa Novak delivered a career’s worth of curriculum materials including essay tutorials, textbooks, poetry workbooks, encyclopedias - even a copy of “Death of a Salesman.” Novak's connection to Marquette traces back to her late father Werner “Rip” H. Graf ’49 and his days as a student at St. Mary’s High School during the onset of the Post-war era. Werner played basketball and football - yes, football - here before venturing on to University of Notre Dame, where he graduated with a degree in architecture. He then served his country stateside as a member of a naval fighter squadron in New Jersey.

Graf worked as an architect with national reach for three decades. Closer to home, he served as president of the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission while helping establish the Michigan City Historic Review Board. Yet, it was his devotion to the Catholic Church that yielded some of his proudest work. Graf lent his architectural acumen to Queen of All Saints during the design of its new community center. Furthermore, he helped author the renovation plans for the rector’s residence in the twilight of his humble life.  

Graf passed away in January 2023 at the age of 91. His passing coincided with the prospect of the Novaks downsizing their home. Several totes and even more bags of teaching materials needed to find a new home.


After teaching stints at the Chicago Academy for the Fine Arts and East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minnesota, Novak is now out of the classroom - but not out of education entirely. She is self-employed as a consultant who leads students through the college application and writing process. While seated in Stacey Cassady’s classroom, Novak observed how teachers are “lifelong learners” before acknowledging the growth an educator experiences even in their first five years of teaching.

Though she, her husband Paul, and their three children reside in Tennessee, their familial ties pull them back to Michigan City monthly. So as she reminisced about her teaching journey and the impact literature had on her students' lives, Novak knew that this donation would not only honor her father but also empower today's students to embark on their own literary escapades.

“I miss the classroom and just wanted to support fellow teachers knowing how expensive and time-consuming it is to prepare high-quality lessons and assessments. I also wanted to give my life's work and professional library to my Dad's alma mater as a way to honor his memory,” Novak said. 

For Novak, this act of generosity is more than just a donation. It represents a reflection of the values instilled in her by both Rip and her mother, Ann. It embodies the spirit of giving, compassion, and paying it forward - values that reside at the core of our mission to nurture the mind, body, and spirit of every student.

Novak and Cassady sat at a table and discussed the nuances of teaching various genres of literature, the return of censorship in the classroom, and a grievance of ethical concerns inherent with AI’s budding presence. The conversation sparked such a palpable level of passion for teaching that one paused to wonder if Novak was talking herself back into the classroom right there in Room 104. While a resume never emerged from the treasure trove of materials sitting around her, Novak left with a sense of satisfaction that her life’s work will bear fruit for future generations of students.

“After meeting several helpful students and spending a couple of hours with the incredible education team of Stacey, JonLee (Hall), and Leanna (Smith), I learned very quickly that I made the right decision. They deserve my donation and so much more. I really hope others who are looking to invest money in a serious education program consider Marquette High School, ” she beamed.


The Graf name runs deeper in Michigan City than even Rip and Ann. Rip’s father, Frederick, owned and operated Graf Dairy in the 1930s and 1940s before selling out to - coincidentally enough - Scholl’s Dairy. Scholl’s Dairy occupied a handful of buildings in Michigan City, including the corner shop at 1615 Franklin Street. Locals may recognize it as the building with the giant milk bottle atop its roof. 

Novak’s brother, Werner (Rip) Graf II, recently purchased the former Scholl Dairy property and is embarking on fully restoring this and other buildings on the block. Just steps from the eventual Franklin at 11th Street train station, the new “Graf Dairy Complex” will offer a collection of intriguing destinations: a New Orleans-style restaurant, a 1940s soda fountain store, a speakeasy in the old stables, and an event center/venue. The Graf Dairy Complex is expected to open in 2026-27. 

As Marisa Novak departed Marquette, she felt a literal weight lifted off her vehicle and a figurative weight lifted off her shoulders. She had handed off a baton of sorts, capsules of knowledge and wisdom that eventually - hopefully - will make their way onto the shelves of a future literature or language arts teacher who may be sitting in a classroom today. 

We extend our deepest gratitude for her contribution to our English department and for exemplifying the true spirit of our Catholic mission. Undoubtedly, Werner “Rip” Graf is giving her two thumbs up.