Honoring a Founding Father // The Harlan Van Gerpen Scholarship
"I am very proud of Hawkeye." These are powerful words from one of the original Board of Directors for Hawkeye Institute of Technology, Harlan Van Gerpen. His commitment to equipping people with tangible workforce skills was a driving force behind the development of Hawkeye Community College. "Business people said you are doing the right thing. That is what our community needs. You are filling a workforce gap."
"It was a time when people couldn’t go to college. Many went into the military. It was a difficult decision for parents. They wanted their kids to go to college and attending a technical school was a good option."
Harlan played an integral part in the formation and development of the college. He was the first secretary of the board, he presented the financial report monthly, and also was the head negotiator for staff for several years. In the beginning, the college had programs located throughout different sites in the community. "Within a few years, we had to build buildings." Today walking around campus and reading the building plagues, it is quite evident the strong role Harlan played in the development of the College. His name is listed on 6 of 13 building plagues on campus dating back to 1969.
Throughout his years of involvement, Harlan had a great vision for the college. This vision still continues as he has established an endowment with Hawkeye Community College Foundation to build and sustain a new healthcare program.
Harlan’s professional accomplishments are astounding. He pioneered the use of computers in John Deere’s gear design process and is believed to have been the first person in the world to use a computer to design gears. His innovation reduced gear calculations from one week to 15 minutes. He retired from John Deere after 27 years of service; however, retirement was short as he spent the next 23 years as a partner in Van Gerpen/Reece Consulting developing and marketing gear design software.
Service to others is a core value for Harlan. He served as a state legislator from 1983-1985, and was later appointed to the Iowa Board of Education. Additional volunteer efforts include the Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce, co-chair of the first Cedar Valley Economic Development Committee, and as an International Executive Service volunteer to India and Albania. He was the moderator for both the first and the last service of the Valley View Baptist Church, and served on many church committees for more than 50 years.
Harlan and his wife Betty lived at Windcove, a retirement community in Cedar Falls where many high school students work. “I check in on them and ask what they are going to be doing. I talk to them about going to Hawkeye, and I let them know I was involved in starting the college.”
Until his death, he remained actively involved with Hawkeye Community College, serving more than 46 years as a lifetime member of the Hawkeye Foundation Board. Harlan passed away on October 21,2012.