Text: Giving Back to pay forward. Image: Black and white photo of the bike racks next to the dorms.

Giving back to pay it forward

Grinnell College had a great impact on Donald C. Rockola’s life. Through an estate gift, Rockola will have a tremendous impact on the lives of future Grinnellians.

A 1953 Grinnell graduate, Rockola generously bequeathed the College almost $8 million to establish the Rockola Family Endowment Fund. The fund will provide scholarships to domestic students who demonstrate financial need, as well as scholarships based on students’ academic ability.

“We were honored to receive Mr. Rockola’s gift. He had never disclosed his gift intentions to anyone at the College, so it came as quite a surprise when his estate attorney contacted me,” says Buddy Boulton, director of planned giving. “Mr. Rockola’s experience at Grinnell obviously meant a lot to him. By establishing these very generous scholarships, Donald will give other students the opportunity to pursue their academic passions.”

Rockola’s future career path was set for him before he attended college. Upon graduating with a degree in physics, he returned to Chicago to work with his father and learn the family business, Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp., which began in 1927. Over the years, the company became a major designer and manufacturer of coin-operated games, including innovative pinball games. Eventually it began making “coin-operated phonographs,” which would later become known as jukeboxes.   

Rockola began taking on a larger role in his family’s company in the 1960s and eventually became the president when his father retired. He sold the company in 1992; it continues to manufacture jukeboxes under the Rock-Ola name and is the longest operating American jukebox manufacturer.

Rockola valued the education that he received at Grinnell and wanted to provide the same opportunity to others, Boulton says. It was important to him to help support talented students as they pursue their academic passions in preparation to make meaningful societal contributions. Much like the legacy of the company that he operated for so many years, this gift will make a lasting impact on numerous student’s lives.

“Mr. Rockola recognized that there is no better investment than providing a young person with the opportunity to have an education,” says Jaci A. Thiede, vice president of development and alumni relations. “His gift supports the College’s commitment to providing our students a highly individualized, world-class education, regardless of their ability to pay. His gift goes a long way in helping us meet that challenge, and we are humbled and grateful.”

— by Laurel Knox