The founder of a 50-year-old Quad-City electrical company and the chairman of the board for Blackhawk Bank & Trust have been named to the Quad-Cities Area Business Hall of Fame by Junior Achievement of the Heartland.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon at JA World in downtown Davenport, the organization's leaders announced this year's class of laureates: James W. Koehler, chairman of the board of J.W. Koehler Electric, and W. Gerard Huiskamp, chairman of the board of Blackhawk Bank & Trust.
JA leaders also named retired Genesis Health System employee Kathy Quinn as the 2019 Outstanding Junior Achievement Volunteer. In her 24 years volunteering, Quinn taught 68 JA programs and 1,500 elementary students, totaling 340 volunteer hours. And she's still teaching today.
Aron and Camilla Lees, owners and operators of Jersey Mike's Subs in Davenport — and soon-to-be owners of a new Moline location — were honored as this year's Young Entrepreneurs. The couple has held several events to raise money for Junior Achievement's programs aimed at helping students achieve economic success.
Dougal Nelson, president and CEO of JA of the Heartland, celebrated the organization's 100-year anniversary. Through financial literacy classes, work readiness training and other programs, he said JA is "developing the next generation of entrepreneurs."
He honored this year's laureates — who were chosen for their contribution to the business community and commitment to entrepreneurship and community service — and said, "all of these folks lead by example."
"These honorees have inspired us with their dedication to hard work and achievement," said Ted Olt, attorney at Lane & Waterman and central region board chair for JA. "More importantly, they serve as role models to our youth, inspiring them and giving them the vivid illustrations of the enduring opportunities presented by our free enterprise system."
Olt recognized Koehler for founding J.W. Koehler Electric in 1969, which he said has seen "rapid growth in the commercial and industrial realm" and remains true to the philosophy of "down-to-earth and friendly service."
"It's something I did not expect ... but I'm very pleased," Koehler said of the honor. "It's hard because it's just my job; it's just what I do."
Looking back on the past 50 years, Koehler said he remembers going from one job to the next, "and never, ever had the thought or word in my head to fail. Failure was never on the horizon. I just kept moving forward."
Huiskamp, who became president of Blackhawk State Bank in 1973, also was humbled by the recognition.
"I guess my first reaction was maybe they must have run out of good candidates," he said with a laugh. "I was really surprised that I was picked to be honored, as some of the people on the past list were very impressive. So it's an incredible honor."
Olt said Huiskamp became president when the bank employed 25 people. Today, Blackhawk Bank & Trust employs 240 people across 17 branches.
"Under his leadership, Blackhawk State Bank outlasted the ever-changing landscape for financial institutions that began in the mid-80s," Olt said. "While smaller banks were bought out by larger holding companies, he remained loyal to his stakeholders as a locally owned and operated bank."
The two laureates offered advice for today's Junior Achievement students:
"I think that young people need to take a look at the whole sphere of what's available to them," Koehler said. "Not everybody is college material; I never was. I never went to college. There's a lot out there, including the trades. And you can move up in the trades, to become foreman, supervisor or owner."
"My advice would be to always be honest and always treat people well, especially customers and employees," Huiskamp said. "And, be the same on Monday as you are on Friday."
They join 68 other laureates previously inducted in the local Business Hall of Fame.
All of the honorees will be formally recognized during the Quad-Cities Area Business Hall of Fame reception on June 13, at Jumer's Casino and Hotel in Rock Island. The event also includes a reception and dinner.
Tickets cost $125 for individuals or $1,000 for a table of 10 guests. Proceeds from the event will help further JA's mission to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy.