Lasting Connections Make an Impact
Whether it’s a party for 70,000 or serving the visitors enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime event like San Antonio’s beloved HemisFair, The RK Group is woven into the fabric of the Alamo City. All this thanks to the hard work and dedication of Chairman Emeritus, Rosemary Kowalski, who started a mom-and-pop restaurant with her husband Henry after World War II. Working to preserve Rosemary Kowalski’s legacy is Jamie Kowalski, director of relationship marketing for the RK Group.
Jamie works closely with Rosemary, her grandmother-in-law, supporting public affairs, client engagements, executive, and corporate communications, all while spearheading community relations activities, corporate philanthropy initiatives, and other strategic projects, learning from Rosemary and leading with her heart.
“She will meet someone on the street and ask, ‘What is it that you do? Give me your card and let’s see how we can work together.’ Making those connections is so much fun. Following up to see that you’ve built something with someone that you’ve never met before – a lasting relationship – is really very special,” says Jamie.
Building relationships and helping others isn’t new to Jamie. A call to serve and give back fueled Jamie’s desire to be a teacher, the role she filled before joining The RK Group. “I just wanted to make an impact in kids’ lives. I chose middle school because I had the hardest time in middle school. I thought if I could affect one child and make their life a little better during that time, I would be doing my job. I taught for eight years and I loved it every single day,” she explains. “While I miss it — I loved teaching — I also felt like it was time to forge a new passion.”
Reflecting on her career change, Kowalski chokes up. “When I started working with Rosemary and realized that I could make an even more significant impact — I was drawn to it. We get to support so many non-profits that benefit education and provide the opportunity to work with underprivileged kids. Everybody deserves a quality education. That’s what’s so special to me.”
“When you look at someone like Rosemary and how much she’s accomplished, and look at other San Antonio women like Edith McAllister or Lila Cockrell — they all changed the direction of their lives as they needed to. And I think that’s an important lesson to learn for any one of the younger generation — you don’t have to be stuck in one spot. If you choose, you can pivot and you can make yourself a better person or a more influential person. If I can do that, hopefully, I can make a big difference.”
Jamie and her husband Travis Kowalski, Director of Operations for The RK Group and Rosemary’s grandson, juggle work around their two young children, Colton and Tessa Grace. “Everything we do is for those little ones, making sure that they have a great life,” she gushes. “It’s hard for me to miss bath time or reading books. But at the same time I like the idea of giving my children something to look up to. It’s this work ethic that I want them to see and reflect upon. And then when they’re adults, I want them to have that same kind of work ethic.”
A Kowalski by marriage, not birth, means that Jamie didn’t grow up in the family business but is soaking it in with Rosemary’s help. “I’ve got a unique perspective because it’s family, but also as an outsider looking in.
“One of my favorite things is just sitting down and being with Rosemary. Listening to the history of how she started as a mom and pop, from really nothing. She had the intuition and drive to make herself better — to keep pushing and keep making it bigger.”
Part of making it bigger is enlarging The RK Group’s charitable arm, something that the entire family is committed to. “We’re in the process of starting a Rosemary Foundation — RK Cares — to continue the relationships she has built and to make sure that those relationships continue for the next generation. Hopefully my kids will be able to have a part in what she started and continue her incredible legacy of service.”
Jamie counts the 95-year-old Rosemary, as well as her own mother as her greatest role models. “Rosemary’s got a spirit that drives her. And she really encompasses what a lady is,” she explains. “My mom started out similar to her. She’s got the spirit of an entrepreneur but also won’t quit when someone says that she won’t be able to do something. That’s how Rosemary is too. I hope I can be a quarter of that.”
“One of Rosemary’s quotes that I live and breathe by is: ‘You’ve got to say please. You’ve got to say thank you. And you’ve got to work hard.’ I wake up at 2 a.m. thinking about an idea and how we can help a charity we’re working with. It’s something you become so passionate about that you don’t want to stop thinking about it,” she explains. “That’s how I felt with teaching and that’s why I know this is the right direction for me.”
“If I can make a difference in a child’s life, help them be more successful, make them a little happier — especially knowing how rough things are — not just for now but also in their future — that’s what really inspires me to be a better person and to work harder.”
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by David Teran