On Wednesday afternoon, State Senator Ed Charbonneau presented Jon Groth, retired director of the Porter County Career and Technical Center, with the Sagamore of the Wabash award, one of the highest honors the Governor of Indiana can bestow.
Groth was recognized for his tireless efforts to help Porter County students further their goals and realize their potential through comprehensive career and vocational education. He joins a list of recipients that includes such individuals as legendary comedian David Letterman, Hall of Fame racer Jeff Gordan, and Indianapolis Colts icon Adam Vinatieri.
“I loved my job, school, faculty, staff, and the kids just motivated me every day,” Groth said. “Getting this award from the governor was quite unexpected, but very cool.”
Charbonneau teamed up with the Kiwanis Club of Valparaiso to surprise Groth with the award at the club’s weekly meeting.
“What Jon has done for students and youth is special,” said Paul Sciarra, Lt. Governor for the Duneland Division of Indiana’s Kiwanis. “He’s turned out future citizens and future Hoosiers, who are productive and engaged young people in our community.”
During his tenure as director, Groth led with a highly collaborative approach. He aimed to ensure students were prepared to hit the ground running in their chosen fields by working closely with the local school districts and universities, such as Ivy Tech.
“One of the things I first discovered when working with Jon, was his passion for his students and learning,” said Aco Sikoski, Campus President of Ivy Tech Community College Valparaiso. “In one January about two years ago, I met with Jon and other area superintendents and talked about creating a heating and air program for our students. By fall, we had that program ready. Jon gets it. He understands what needs to be done.”
Carbonneau noted that Groth’s career helped shape the face of education around the county.
“What is going on in Valparaiso with regards to education is transformational; I don’t know how else to describe it,” said Charbonneau. “We’re getting back to that kind of education where these kids have a job ready when they’re done with school, and I think a big part of that is the collaboration between educators in the area, and the leadership of Jon Groth.”
Stewart McMillan, Fire Chief and Founder of of the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative, pointed out that much of Groth’s legacy is found in how he reshaped the entire culture surrounding vocational education.
“When Jon came to town, people thought of vocational school as a place for kids that couldn’t do anything else,” he said. “He’s turned it into a place where kids want to be, where they thrive and are proud of what they do. We didn’t have that before, and Jon made it happen.”
Many guests shared stories about the different ways Groth impacted their lives, as his influence expanded far beyond the halls of the Porter County Career and Technical Center.
"Jon went to work every single day with the goal of doing what's best for kids," said Bob Phelps, Director of the Gary Area Career Center. "Each day added up to weeks, then years, and then decades. And those decades added up to a lifetime of dedication to making this world a better place by educating our youth. Jon, thank you for your years of service to our community, your professional guidance, and even more so, for your friendship."
Groth accepted the award with a humble attitude and a smile.
“I’m just glad to be a part of this group that works really hard to improve the community,” he said. “That’s kind of what life is all about. It’s what you can do for others, not what you can do for yourself.”