Distance learning helped '67 grad finish degree

After losing his father, professors kept alumnus from giving up pursuit of a college education

Darrell Kula knows the difference a bit of grace can make when life is about to pivot in the wrong direction.

In the fall of 1967 Darrell was a UNI senior majoring in science education when his father died. The oldest of three children by ten years, Darrell knew he had to go home to run the family’s 160 acre grain and livestock farm, leaving the completion of his college education in doubt.

But Darrell’s professors wouldn’t let him quit. They told him to go home and take care of his family. When he was ready, they’d help him figure out the rest.

And figure it out they did. “I really can’t remember how they did it, but my professors got me my coursework and assignments,” Darrell said. “I guess even back then we were figuring out distance learning!” 

Neither of Darrell’s parents finished high school and were young teens when they started a family. Darrell’s life didn’t stretch much beyond their farm near Monticello. He grew up “farm strong,” working the labor intensive cattle and hog chores from an early age. But at 13 he decided he wanted to go to college, maybe teach science. He found he had an affinity for math and science in high school. In addition to excelling in the classroom, Darrell was a leader on the newly organized Central City High school football team.

“I went to UNI because it was the most economical choice for me at the time,” Darrell said. “And it was the place to go if I wanted to teach. But I also knew I’d have a strong math and science background if I didn’t teach.”

A chance opportunity to work at Penick & Ford near Cedar Rapids the summer before he graduated led to seven years there doing environmental and process engineering work. In 1975 he took a position with Rockwell Collins to start a program to mitigate Rockwell’s negative impact on the environment. During his 22 years at Rockwell, Darrell also headed up the environmental lobbying effort for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. That led him to reconnect with UNI in the 80s to help create a new environmental science major. 

When Darrell retired as Collins Aerospace's director of environmental affairs and avionics, he and his wife Barb moved to Minneapolis when she took a senior leadership position with Cargill. 

Darrell and Barb have a hobby farm near Cedar Rapids. They split their time between Minneapolis and a house on the farm. Between them Darrell and Barb have six sons and 14 grandchildren.

The Kula’s philanthropy leans toward helping children and young adults. Darrell decided it was time to pay back the grace UNI showed him 50 years ago. Darrell and Barb have created the Kula-Carson Scholarship Endowment for students majoring in environmental science. When asked if the economic fears fueled by current world events make him hesitate to make his gift, Darrell said, “Maybe for a nanosecond. But for me, this is a Holy Spirit thing – we need to do this.”