By Celine Klosterman
Teachers in the Aquinas Catholic school system in Fort Madison instilled John Gockel with discipline and a sense of curiosity from the time he started kindergarten, he said.
Those qualities served him as he went on to study civil engineering at Iowa State University in the late 1960s, then entered the construction industry in which he’s spent most of his life.
“I’m a big believer that the reason Catholic schools are successful is they instill a sense of discipline in students,” Gockel said. “They taught us to apply ourselves to a course of study. You didn’t give up; you were expected to perform.”
He graduated in 1965 from Aquinas High School, a predecessor to Holy Trinity Catholic Schools in Lee County. After graduating from Iowa State in 1970, he found construction work that took him to Illinois, Oklahoma, California, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, where he’s lived since 1979. He has been a self-employed consultant since 1990, representing owners on construction projects, providing forensic analysis and arbitrating construction disputes. He said he’s been involved in building or remodeling more than 45 schools and played roles in the management and construction of four major-league sports venues.
A husband and father of two daughters, he’s helping finance his 7-year-old grandson’s Catholic education because he believes strongly in its value. Many of the roughly 80 Aquinas students he graduated with are now professionals. “We had several teachers, both religious and lay, who challenged us and instilled in us a sense of accomplishment.”
The instructors emphasized faith, too. You have to choose to follow your faith after you graduate from a Catholic school and leave home, Gockel noted. He believes his teachers helped provide the foundation to make that choice. At St. Edward Parish in Bloomington, Minn., he has been a parish council member, chair of the pastoral care commission and Stephen Minister, and has assisted with building and grounds maintenance.
Gockel returned to Fort Madison a few years ago for a reunion of classmates, several of whom live in Minnesota. He and the two graduates who attended Iowa State with him have maintained a strong faith, he said.