On Friday, Dec. 17, Kerry Koch will walk across the stage and receive her diploma, commemorating her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Studies. It will also be the six-year anniversary of her father’s death. To say it will be a serendipitous moment would be an understatement.
Koch’s father, Dennis, passed away Dec. 17, 2015 at the age of 71. A Vietnam veteran, he was considered one hundred percent disabled through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), dealing with ailments from Agent Orange.
After her father passed, the family met with his VA representative who questioned whether or not Koch and her brother had their bachelor’s degrees. “At the time I was struggling to get my associates,” Koch said.
Koch was awarded a Survivors’ and Dependents Assistance (DEA) grant, given to spouses or children of Veterans who are either permanently disabled because of a service-related condition or died while on active duty. The VA grant offers assistance with education and training, housing, and books.
The assistance could not have come at a better time.
Koch was ready to finish what she started. In the late ’90s, she earned a legal secretary certificate from Anoka Technical College and later an associate degree with a paralegal focus from Hennepin Technical College.
Not having a specific career path in mind, Koch found it difficult to stay motivated and focused with school. “When I was told this benefit would cover my education through a bachelor’s degree, I decided it was time to get serious,” she said.
With an interest in law always in the back of her mind, she looked into St. Cloud State University’s Criminal Justice Studies program. The location and fact that her brother, Kevin earned his degree in Elementary Education from SCSU, made the choice simple.
A conversation with professor of Criminal Justice John Baker, J.D., pre-law advisor for the university, solidified a decision to pursue Criminal Justice Studies as a major and Community Psychology as a minor. “He was so helpful and was also a Marine,” Koch recalls, “I had to share my story of how and why I was at St. Cloud State with him.”
It was time to earn that bachelor’s degree. Koch sold her townhome and moved to Big Lake to live with her mother, Linda.
It is Koch’s goal to become a probation officer and help people turn their lives around and be successful in life. “I’ve never actually had a career, just jobs. I am really excited to finally have a career,” she said.
Dennis was a stoic man. Koch describes him as not being overly affectionate, but he was always there for her. He was her rock. Whenever she needed him, he was there and always said the right thing to make it all okay.
“Getting this benefit was just another way of him taking care of me after his death,” Koch said. "I think he would be so proud of me and he would probably make a joke about me finally finishing my schooling."
Koch has given it her all and is graduating with honors. She sums it up perfectly: “I needed to give it my all and make him proud.”