ABERDEEN, S.D. – When Jodi Gardner would visit her uncle, Keith Gerving, she’d often find him sitting in his living room with rolls of wire, stripping them to sell the copper.
All of that money would go to scholarship funds for Northern State University students.
Gerving, a longtime NSU employee who passed away in December 2016, went above and beyond in his generosity for Northern, raising money for student scholarships in numerous ways. The university honored him by planting a tree on campus and installing a plaque at the site.
Gardner said her uncle’s generosity stemmed from a love of education and a commitment to NSU students – specifically, Wolves volleyball players.
“I think he was just trying to help out those that needed the help,” she said.
He was very close to the players, past and present, she said. Her family received numerous letters from current and former volleyball players and their parents at the time of Gerving’s funeral. She also found many more letters of thanks in his house when she was cleaning it.
Gerving worked hard to raise money for those students, and Gardner hopes the scholarships will continue.
“That’s something that he would definitely want to keep going,” she said.
Raised Money in Many Ways
Gerving raised money in several ways. NSU Deputy Director of Athletics Zach Flakus said in April 2008, Gerving started two endowments – The Fred and Cecyle Evers Endowment and the John Martel Endowment. He established them through payroll deduction and continued to add to them through money raised by stripping copper from buildings scheduled for demolition, as well as other projects, including:
▪ A concession stand at home volleyball games
▪ Cleaning buildings and apartments outside of NSU
▪ Contracting with the NSU Foundation to clean the Beckman Building, and in lieu of being paid, having the money directly deposited into the endowments.
▪ Other odd jobs around Aberdeen, or by salvaging materials or equipment from construction jobs.
“He loved student-athletes and wanted to create scholarships for them,” Flakus said.
Gardner said her uncle also sold mailbox doors on eBay and donated that money to NSU scholarships.
“I actually found two of the doors in his house when I was cleaning,” she said.
All the money from memorials at his funeral was donated for scholarships.
Didn’t Want Recognition
But Gardner stressed that Gerving didn’t expect any publicity.
“He didn’t do it to be patted on the back,” she said.
But his efforts did not go unnoticed – including by the late Coach Don Meyer. Gardner found a heartfelt note of recognition from Meyer in Gerving’s house:
“I know you work under the cover of darkness and don’t clamor for praise. Nonetheless, you can’t fool me,” Meyer wrote. “Underneath all the crust, sludge, and grime lies a hulk of a man I am proud to call my friend.”
Gerving could be crusty at times – he was a strict person who took great pride in his buildings, particularly the Barnett Center, Gardner said. But, she said, he also had a heart of gold.
Gerving worked for NSU for 25 years. As a custodial supervisor, he was in charge of the Barnett Center, Kramer Hall, the Johnson Fine Arts Center, Administration Building, Dacotah Hall, Spafford Hall, Gerber Building and Jerde Hall.
“He was a hard worker,” Gardner said.
He was also a huge history buff who would research family history with Gardner and her daughter. He was a wonderful great-uncle who read and played with both of Gardner’s children, who are now 14 and 11.
“He was a pretty amazing guy,” she said. “He had a really big heart. All of us miss him.”