BY KRISTEN KUBISIAK
When Jon Dekker thinks back to his time at St. Thomas More High School, the memories flood together: Masses in the gym, basketball practices and football games, faces of teachers, and fun times spent with friends.
Dekker would be the first to admit that he never could have guessed the trajectory his life would take after he graduated in 2001. It was a journey of unbelievable blessings and profound success – which he credits largely to the strength of his Catholic education.
“Attending Catholic schools really gave me not only the academic rigor and discipline that I needed to be prepared for college, but the compassion and selflessness that I needed to be a good human being,” Dekker said.
Dekker isn’t the only person who feels that way. A recent research study conducted on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee shows that Catholic high schools are an investment that pays off in the long run, with alumni reporting greater life and career success.
The value of that education isn’t something that struck him when he was a student at St. Thomas More, however.
“I didn’t really realize it until I was sitting in a classroom at Princeton,” Dekker said. “I was wondering if I could really do it, and then I knew I was prepared.”
Jon Dekker’s story
The only child of Norm and Barb, Dekker grew up in Greenfield, where he attended St. Alphonsus Catholic Church and School. When it was time to go to high school, Dekker considered his options. “There are a lot of good schools out there, but I felt really comfortable at St. Thomas More. I know my parents wanted the best education for me and they sacrificed to make sure I could have a Catholic education.”
A little financial aid helped. Dekker earned a scholarship of $1,000 a year from St. Thomas More for placing among the top two students on the math portion of the entrance exam.
While he was a high school student, Dekker certainly made the most of his opportunities to grow in faith and as a person – he was in the National Honor Society, and he played guitar in the campus ministry band. But his real passion was sports. Dekker played football, basketball and baseball during his time at St. Thomas More.
His hard work on and off the field paid off. He was accepted into Princeton University, where he played varsity football, junior varsity basketball, and he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2006.
Dekker signed as a free agent after the NFL Draft in April of his senior year at Princeton. He was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a tight end, where he played for three years. In 2009, he was part of the team that won Super Bowl XLIII.
“It was a dream come true,” Dekker said. “I sure didn’t expect it when I got to college, and it is something I will always cherish.”
After Dekker was done playing football in 2010, he came back home to pursue an MBA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which he completed in 2012. After an internship in New York, Dekker was offered a job at Robert W. Baird and Co. in Milwaukee. He has worked there for seven years and is currently director of institutional trading. In 2017, he earned his Chartered Financial Analyst credential.
Now Dekker is preparing for his next big role in life: father.
“My wife Francie and I are expecting our first child in June,” he said. “It’s a long way away, but hopefully it’s in the cards for my children to go to a Catholic school and have the same experiences that I’ve had. Catholic education combines the intellectual, emotional and the spiritual. The result is you are prepared for college and beyond.”
A research study conducted by local research firm Branding Breakthroughs, LLC surveyed 1,758 Catholic and non-Catholic high school alumni about their perceptions regarding their high school and college experiences.
The findings support that the values and well-rounded, high-quality education taught in Catholic schools translate into students being more prepared for college and in turn, more likely to hold professional and executive positions.
“Catholic schools provide a foundation in faith, but they are also pillars in the economic engine of the business community,” said Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, Superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “Catholic schools form compassionate, hard-working and ethical leaders. The values learned in Catholic schools become a part of who they are, and that stays with them throughout their lives.”
The Stollenwerk Family Foundation funded the research study on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. John Stollenwerk, former president and CEO of Allen Edmonds Shoe Corp., is a strong proponent of Catholic education.
“I funded this study because Catholic schools provide the best education out there to be successful and prosper in all areas of life,” Stollenwerk said. “Catholic education is worth the investment for so many reasons.”
More details on the research study can be found at www.archmil.org/research