Editor’s Note: Gerald Janan, ’58, was a featured speaker at the College of Business Administration’s 40th annual Everett W. Ockerman Lecture and Award Presentation on Sept. 27, 2015. He shared his recollections of his former professor (who joined the Niagara faculty in 1946 and served as chairman of the Department of Commerce from September 1953 until his retirement in May 1975) with those in attendance, including 43 seniors in the College of Business Administration who were recognized for their academic excellence.
It is a distinct honor to be able to share my story and the story of a man whose legacy runs deep here at Niagara University. I truly believe that God has a purpose for each and every life. When He is helping us to accomplish our purpose and reach our full potential, I believe He sends us instrumental people to help us reach that end. For me, one of those people was Dr. Ockerman, also known as Doc Ock or, in some circles, just Ockey.
I grew up in Father Baker’s orphanage. At the age of 15, I was taken in by a great South Buffalo family, Vince and Anne Masterson. This afforded me the opportunity to attend Bishop Timon High School, where I ran track and cross country. This is where my story with Dr. Ockerman begins. Dr. Ockerman was a recruiter for Niagara, not only for cross country and track, but also for basketball and baseball. Doc would attend many games and track meets. After one of my meets, he approached me and said he wanted to offer me a scholarship to run for Niagara. In this race, I did not finish first, so you can imagine my confusion. I asked him why he was offering me the scholarship. He said, “I watched you and you never gave up.”
Winning was not the most important part to him — it was more about perseverance. I was in total shock — I had no intention of going to college, I just thought I would work in the steel mill — but Doc changed all that. He had other plans for me and he was determined to see them through.
The cross country teams became the Ockermans’ family, as they didn’t have any children. Mrs. Ock would come along on the bus to our meets with lots of goodies for us all. Dr. Ockerman and Mrs. Ock attended just about every event that went on at Niagara: the arts, the plays, baseball and basketball games. Niagara was their second home, their family.
In my junior year, I became very ill and ended up in the hospital. It was Easter vacation and my foster parents were away, so Ockey and Mrs. Ock took me from the hospital to their home and nursed me back to health. Unfortunately, when I returned to Niagara, I no longer was able to run, doctor’s orders.
This was worrisome for me because my scholarship was based on my ability to run. Ockey took charge. He informed me that I still had two years left on my scholarship and made me his assistant coach. I continued to receive my scholarship and was able to continue my college education. His commitment to the success of his students was like no other. He truly thought of his Niagara students as his own children and would do anything to help them succeed. He was committed to helping them complete their education, to fulfill their God-given potential.
While department chairman, Dr. Ockerman saw a real need for more courses to be offered to provide students a variety of vocations. So each year, Ockey would introduce different courses and hire excellent instructors to implement these subjects. His wisdom brought about many new business departments.
Ockey did the same thing for sports at Niagara. He had a unique way of recruiting for his track team — he would offer free hot dogs and pop to get students to sign up for track and field events. He would also recruit students from the classes he taught. As a result, we had great track and cross country teams, with excellent student participation. Ockey also saw a void in activities for many of the students attending Niagara. The students who had once played high school sports now had very few athletic opportunities, if they were not on an athletic scholarship. So Doc decided to fill that void by advocating for more intramural sports in basketball, football, track, cross country, tennis, and baseball. He would hold open enrollment for anyone interested in participating and provide the time and place so that they could apply some of their talents.
This idea took off. The benefits were endless — not only for the students who participated, but for the entire student body. The scholarship students also participated in intramurals, and anyone who signed up had to bring three or four friends. This brought everyone on campus closer, enhancing the school culture and comradery for all. And the competition was not too shabby, either! We all became true Niagarans, just like Doc and Mrs. Ock. We were a family, a family that could learn and play together. This legacy is still present here at Niagara.
After graduation, I continued my relationship with the Ockermans. Ockey and Mrs. Ock became like grandparents to my four daughters. Every Christmas, they would come over and help decorate our Christmas tree. Mrs. Ock made gloves, hats, and dresses for the girls. We have so many special memories of good family times with them.
When Mrs. Ockerman died, Ockey became a weekly dinner guest, and if my wife, Judy, made brownies for him, he would give her an A+ rating. He remained a constant figure in our family. He always took the time to mentor my girls, give them advice, ask questions, and just be there for them, once again showing his true commitment to people.
His legacy was truly apparent at his funeral. Hundreds of people shared their stories, many of them very similar to mine. Ockey was a humble man, a man of his word, full of wisdom with a great sense of humor. He was a man who helped me and so many others.
Who would have thought that this little orphan from Father Baker’s would have gone to college, received a bachelor’s degree in business, gone on to receive a master’s degree plus 60 hours in education, become a teacher and a track and field coach who, in turn, was able to make a difference and touch many other lives? This would not have been possible if not for Ockey.