When Karen Reker set up a scholarship in her late husband’s name, she didn’t know that the first recipient of the scholarship would share several commonalities with him, even right down to names. This fall, the Marty Reker Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Martina Saarela, an Architectural Construction student in her first year at SCTCC.
Marty Reker passed away unexpectedly two years ago from a rare disease, and since then, his wife Karen has worked to “find ways to keep his spirit alive in the community.”
Through the SCTCC Foundation, Karen established a scholarship that will award $2,000 per year for five years to qualifying students in the construction area. Martina received the first scholarship.
“I’m really glad that the SCTCC Foundation allowed me to do this,” said Karen. “It’s an important thing, and even though Marty wasn’t an academic, he valued all kinds of learning, whether it’s in schools, whether it’s in life circumstances.”
Marty Reker started working at age 21 as a builder/developer in the St. Cloud community and had built more than 1,000 homes as well as high-end multi-family homes. He was well-known in the construction industry, and giving to the community was important to him. He donated a lot of land to the city of Sartell, and he would donate land to build playgrounds for neighborhoods.
Another trait he had was giving a start to those just entering the construction field. Marty employed several carpenters and subcontractors who were trying to get a foot in the door. And while Marty never went past high school, Karen realized that one way to pay it forward would be to start a college scholarship in his name specifically for students entering the construction field.
Before the SCTCC Foundation scholarship was awarded, Karen was able to see the finalists’ information. She really related to Martina, seeing a lot of Marty reflected in overcoming struggles, work ethic, and even starting a bank account at a young age. During a conversation about Marty’s entrepreneurial spirit, Martina laughed about the odd jobs she’s done, saying that she would “try to make a little side hustle. It’s about being productive and working toward your goal.”
Martina’s goals are pretty clear. After she finishes the Architectural Construction program, she plans to go to the University of Minnesota to get a bachelor’s degree in architecture. The Marty Reker Memorial Scholarship has helped take away some of the worries over paying for school. In addition to tuition, the program requires a laptop and books, and with the scholarship, she was able to enjoy summer instead of having to work extra hours to pay for her supplies.
Not that her summer was easy: Martina’s been working with her family to rebuild her house that burned down in 2019. Her dad has a background in carpentry and construction, so Martina comes by her interest in the field naturally. Working on the house the past three years has only solidified her career goals.
Receiving the scholarship and hearing Karen speak about Marty “was really inspiring,” said Martina. “Not only do I want to do this for myself, but I also want to make her proud and feel like she’s doing something good.”
So far, Martina feels like she’s living up to that. Classes have been hard, but she makes sure to ask questions when needed, and she asks her dad for help. The opportunities that have come together for Martina are something that’s she’s really grateful for. When asked about how important it is that the community supports scholarships for SCTCC students, she nods her head:
“I think it’s really important because kids like me or those who can’t afford school, and that shouldn’t be what they’re worried about. They should just worry about getting good grades and doing better for their lives.”
With Karen Reker’s guidance and a memorial scholarship in place for the next five years, Marty’s spirit is sure to live on.