Aaron Ockenfels, just days away from graduating with a B.A. in Accounting from Ave Maria University, took a break from his studies for an interview that prompted him to reflect back on the last four years, particularly his experience of Hurricane Irma. The graduating senior who grew up on a farm near Wellman, Iowa, was one of five members of the Class of 2018 who were being profiled in the week leading up to graduation. These select five were each nominated for the President’s Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior of Ave Maria University in recognition of academic accomplishments, involvement in the life of the University, service to others, and exemplification of AMU’s highest Catholic ideals.
Although not an official member of any club or student organization, Aaron was still actively involved with life on campus and committed to serving the larger community. Every Wednesday he, along with a fellow AMU student, served as a sidewalk counselor outside of the abortion clinic in Naples. Sunday nights would see Aaron assisting with the high school youth ministry at the local parish. Aaron played baseball his junior year and earned Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors. He also performed often with his band, Tom MonaBAND & The Dominos (a playful nod to the University’s founder, Tom Monaghan, and the pizza business that made him his fortune). The student band took first place at the annual campus competition, Battle of the Bands, his sophomore and junior years. The other two years, they took second.
Working 12-hour shifts on campus security, Aaron Ockenfels witnessed the community pull together during Hurricane Irma.
Aaron was well-known more generally around campus. He could be seen almost anywhere, at any given time in his position as a campus security guard. It was through his position with security that Aaron had one of his most memorable and unique experiences at Ave Maria University: Hurricane Irma. “Coming from Iowa, where we have tornadoes, Irma was a step up in intensity,” Aaron says. “I worked security leading up to, during, and after Irma. I worked shifts 12 hours on, 12 hours off and stayed in the Student Union with CCSO [Collier County Sheriff’s Office] deputies, EMS, First Responders, and Firefighters.” For his efforts during Hurricane Irma, Aaron received the Meritorious Service Award from President Towey.
Aaron goes on to talk about the intensity of those days, how it brought everyone together and created a bond between everyone who lived through it. “Everyone had stories about Irma,” he explains, “whether they stayed and worked to prepare beforehand, cleaned up the aftermath, or if they traveled somewhere to avoid the hurricane.” Thinking back on his own experience of those days, Aaron was struck by how the entire community pulled together as a team, working toward the same goal “The part I was most impressed with during Irma was the sense of unity and purpose shared by everyone who stayed on campus and worked together,” Aaron shares. “Everyone came together to help out and nobody complained about doing bad jobs or the amount of work that needed to get done.”
Over the summer, Aaron has plans to continue working for his alma mater as a member of Campus Security while he pursues a job as a Customs and Border Protection Officer for the Department of Homeland Security. When asked how AMU contributed to his formation, Aaron says it challenged him, academically, spiritually, and socially. “It really helped me working with others and working in groups,” he says, “as well as personal responsibility for making sure deadlines are met and things are taken care of.“
Many thanks to Aaron as he continues to serve the campus community of Ave Maria University and congratulations on being named a President’s Award finalist. Best of luck navigating the adventure ahead!