By John Sacco
CONNELLSVILLE — Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School fostered a family feel and long-lasting relationships through shared faith and hard work, according to two alumni.
Dave Koval, who lives in Florida with his wife Maryann, returned for his 50th class reunion in August. He is bursting with pride for his school.
“I was the first in my family to go to college,” Koval said. “I’m retired now. I was fortunate to go to Geibel and feel glad to still have a relationship with my classmates.”
After earning an economics degree and an MBA at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Koval went on to an impressive career that included public accounting and working in the paper, printing and warehousing industries.
“I went to college and somehow through the grace of God and Geibel Catholic, I was able to make it,” Koval said. “I’m thankful for the people who helped me along the way. No one can do things and achieve things all alone.”
Koval has six children and lived in New York before moving his family to Virginia and eventually to Atlanta.
“You could see the decline in the (Catholic) schools in New York with the cutting back in certain things a few years before we left,” Koval said. “I felt bad about it. Geibel gave me a good education. The teachers really cared.
“I wanted to give back to Geibel. I got in touch with the right people, and I told them I wanted to do something helpful for the school.”
Koval set a goal to raise $10,000 to improve the girls’ bathroom at the school. He wrote to classmates and pledged to match their donations up to a certain point. Together, his class raised $21,000.
“Everyone has their ups and downs. Geibel has had its ups and downs,” he said. I felt it was time for us to help them out, return some gifts to the school from our class.”
Bob Fetter, the first-year principal at Geibel Catholic, said it’s been exciting to see how alumni are interested in helping the school. He is grateful for Koval’s spearheading of the effort to help with the new restroom, as well as his classmates’ generosity.
“Obviously, he has a great passion for Geibel,” Fetter said. “Dave wants to be part of a movement where they become ambassadors to bring alumni back to be a much bigger presence with the school. That is a necessity for the school moving forward. Anytime you get that kind of alumni support, it is good.”
Bernice Zelenoak Waller, a 1970 graduate, said her time at Geibel Catholic prepared her and “set me up for my life.”
“The school and the teachers taught us to work hard. We were taught you had to put in the time and work diligently for what you wanted,” she said. “What my parents put out for me (tuition and time), I felt I had to do well. A Catholic education can be expensive. But the results and experiences are worth it.”
Waller studied nursing and elementary education at Mount Aloysius College, a private liberal arts Catholic institution in Cresson. She began her career as a Catholic school teacher and went on to teach at Mount Pleasant Elementary School.
“We were all so close. It was nice to be able to go to our little chapel and have Masses there,” she said. “I came there from Mount Pleasant, and we all came together and became a close family. It was wonderful.
“Our teachers were wonderful, caring and supportive. They were always deeply involved with us. If anyone had a problem, there was always someone you could talk to,” she said.
“For me, Geibel was just an all-around good experience. It helped me be what I am today.