On the birthday of its namesake Thursday, Cotter High School honored five benefactors who changed the face of Cotter.
Bob Kierlin, Steve Slaggie, Mike Gostomski and Jack Remick were escorted to the front row for a Founders’ Day convocation in the newly completed Centennial Gym on the Cotter campus. They shifted a little uneasily in their seats as Cotter President Judith Schaefer spoke of “the unique role these five men played in our history,” and nodded slightly in agreement when she said that “this is the last thing any of them wanted us to do.”
She briefly sketched the men’s personal and business history, telling how Kierlin hit upon the idea of a new way to market nuts and bolts, and how he approached four friends — Slaggie, Gostomski, Remick and Henry “Van” McConnon — to invest in the idea. The result, after decades of hard work and innovation — is Fastenal, with nearly 2,700 stores in all 50 states and 20 countries overseas, the largest distributor of fasteners in North America.
In 1987 — the year of Fastenal’s first public stock offering — the “Fastenal Five” formed the Hiawatha Education Foundation as a means to assist private schools. Four of the five were Cotter graduates — classes of 1957 and 1958 — and, in 1989, the foundation became a major benefactor for Cotter High School.
In 1990, the foundation purchased the campus of the College of St. Teresa, which closed the year before, and announced plans to renovate campus buildings as the new home for Cotter High School and a number of associated education initiatives. They also announced the creation of the foundation’s scholarship fund to provide four-year college scholarships for all Cotter High graduates — a program that has distributed more than $10.4 million since 1992.
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“For all of this there is not a single picture, inscription or sign with their names on it,” Schaefer said. “It’s past time we thank them for what they are and what they’ve done for us.”
“Cotter isn’t a name on a building,” Kierlin said, “It’s the people who make it up,” crediting the men and women who taught and learned there with creating and continuing traditions of community service and academic excellence.
He also offered a gentle correction to Schaefer’s introductory remarks.
“I actually asked 30 friends to invest in Fastenal,” he said, with a nod to the four who responded with a “yes.”