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.

“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.”


(9) comments


What 'sour grapes?' Why would I have any reason to be jealous?

As a portion of my income, I have probably donated at least as much as Kierlin, but without any need for news articles lauding my generosity. Or legislation funding my hobby as a tax write off.

As far as caring about what motivated Kierlin to donate to Cotter: sharing his story about why he felt moved to donate to Cotter might inspire others to do likewise.

Unless his motivation is to exert control over the institution, get some hefty tax write offs, salve his conscious, put his name in the public eye, and so on.

I have no idea what motivated Kierlin. I don't really care as much about that as I do that WDN is less and less a community newspaper and more and more an offshoot of LaCrosse's news and a platform for various vanity pieces about local bigwigs. Or 'bigwigs.'

Which is sad. There is a lot of good going on in the community. Also some bad. But I cannot look to WDN for any genuine reporting.


As a parent of five Cotter graduates and one still to go, I am incredibly grateful for the tremendous support and encouragment that these five men, their families and so many other servant leaders have given to Cotter. I think Mr. Kierlin said it best yesterday and I am paraphrasing, when he told the Cotter students that the best thank you they can receive is to have our students live productive lives guided by moral principles. Sincerely, Pat Bowlin

Eryn Potthast

I was one of the early lucky recipients of the HEF scholarship (class of 94) and I'll never forget it! These guys could have done anything with their money but they put a good deal towards education and helped a lot of other people too! Throughout my life I have also been privileged to know, through my work, that they helped many other people as well! Well done!


Sour grapes?


Of course it's sour grapes for Janedoe..........Kierlin didn't write the article, and couldn't care less about being promoted. READ the article !!!


A piece about Cotter benefactors that is all about promoting Kierlin and Fastenal. How surprising. And inaccurate as well. But this is the Winona Daily News Out of La Crosse, so also not surprising.


I think the reference to Kierlin and Fastenal in the article was to point out where the money came from that the men were able to donate to Cotter. Kierlin started Fastenal and the others joined him and made their millions together.


And yet, not a word about what motivated Kierlin to donate to Cotter. It's a vanity piece for Kierlin, who does like his vanity pieces.


Who cares what motivated him? How much have you donated to Cotter or anyone else? No matter how much good someone does, there is always someone out there who doesn't agree because they didn't get a piece of the action, or are simply jealous !

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