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Building from Burlington

SOE alumna Joan Gerling contributes to see a new school in her lifetime

Dean Jan McMahill, Meaghan Tigges and Joan Gerling

“Happiness is Joan at The Drake,” reads the cake — scripted in red icing against white frosting. It’s a surprise chocolatey dessert brought into the restaurant specially for Drake alumna Joan Gerling, in celebration of her recent 85th birthday.  As with so much that the bubbly octogenarian has, Gerling is delighted to share.

The Drake is a welcoming restaurant in Burlington, Iowa, located in a picturesque spot just across the Mississippi from Gerling’s farm.  Two or three times a year, Gerling gets together with Jan McMahill, dean of Drake’s School of Education, to reconnect, reminisce and talk about new developments on campus. It’s the perfect setting: Drake at The Drake.

“I feel as though I’ve known Jan my entire life,” Gerling says. “She’s the type of person who never meets a stranger.”

Gerling attended Drake University during the height of World War II. Her experience in Des Moines is a time she treasures and one that kicked of a 20-year teaching career. Now, many of her former third graders have already celebrated their 50-year reunions, but Gerling remains committed to providing quality educational opportunities.

When she talks about her Drake experience, Gerling’s face lights up. She remembers staying in the Cottage Grove Hall, and then another year on campus in Jewett Hall, student teaching at Hubbell and Greenwood elementary schools, and going to dances with servicemen at Camp Dodge.  (Gerling met her late husband, Ray, a few years later and first fibbed to him that he was on a “do not date” list issued by her superintendent. Her teacherly attempt to brush him off didn’t work; they were happily married for more than half a century.)

Vivacious and active, with skin lightly tanned from chores on her acreage, Gerling lives to give. She still serves on a number of local committees and makes visits to her friends whose memories are fading. And, every so often, she sends a check to the School of Education — contributions that will help to erect a much-needed new building.

For years, the School of Education (SOE) has been housed west of campus, in a space originally designed for a credit union. Only three classrooms are available, and faculty and staff members work in a windowless basement. The new building will move the SOE from its current off-site location to the heart of campus, across from the Knapp Center, and will equip Drake students, faculty, staff, and administrators with the most flexible, state-of-the art environments that support student learning. In addition to more offices and meeting spaces, key features will include:

  • A 2,600 square foot curriculum and resource library
  • A much sought-after 1,700 foot tiered classroom
  • Art and music studios for teachers and students to simulate classroom experiences
  • Nine state-of-the art classrooms that can be reconfigured for different size groups and teaching styles

The vision for the new SOE building is a priority of the distinctlyDrake campaign and an exciting one. It’s an opportunity for alumni to make a lasting contribution to the campus and to Iowa’s community of educators.

The outside of the restaurant The Drake where SOE alumna Joan Gerling meets with SOE Dean Jan McMahill. The two get together several times a year to reminisce and talk about future SOE developments.

“When do you think the building will be finished?” Gerling asks McMahill between bites. “I plan to live into my 90s and wouldn’t mind making it to 100, and I’d love to live to see it.”

Many wonder at the secrets to a long and healthy life. Listening to Gerling, it’s clear that her optimism, hard work, unwavering love and generosity have helped her to not only weather life’s challenges with poise but also prosper.

When the School of Education does finally break ground on the project, which should be fully funded within the next five years, the Drake Community will have a gracious and humble grandmotherly figure, Joan Gerling, to thank. Then, it will certainly be time for another piece of cake.

Others interested in being part of the campaign can contact:

Meaghan K Tigges

Major Gift Officer
Kinne West
2429 University Ave
Des Moines, IA  50311-4501