Throughout his time at UAB, Nowakowski has never been short on administrative responsibilities. He has served as chief of the Low Vision Clinic, chief of ocular disease service, chairman of the faculty affairs committee, and chief of staff, among other duties. In all that time, however, he has maintained room in his life for outside interests—most notably his hobbies of playing guitar and flying airplanes.
Although Nowakowski didn’t follow his teacher’s advice and pursue guitar as a career, he never gave it up either. After arriving at UAB, a fellow faculty member discovered that Nowakowksi was a musician, and the two began playing together. “At that point, I had only played classical, but we got together with some students who were musicians, and they taught me a lot about other types of music and how to improvise,” Nowakowski says. “We eventually began to play at parties (including the annual UABSO student party called the Eye Ball), and we called ourselves Rod and the Cones. I certainly didn’t deserve top billing, but for a band of optometrists, the name was just too good to pass up.”
Aside from music, Nowakowski says one of his favorite places to unwind is high above the ground in his Viking airplane. “I started flying in 1977,” he says. “I had a friend in optometry school who talked me into learning how and going in with him to buy a plane. We bought a 1946 Aeronca Champ and paid about $2,500 for it.”
When both young men fell in love with the skies, they found there wasn’t enough air time for both of them, so they bought a second plane. “This one was a 1946 Aeronca Chief for about the same price,” Nowakowski says. “So we each owned half of two planes, one of which didn’t always run as well as the other, so we would flip a coin to see who got stuck flying that one.”
Eventually, Nowakowski would graduate to owning his own plane. To date, he has owned five planes, even owning two at the same time for a brief period.