Committed citizens share Columbia Heights’ Alumni of Distinction Award


Photo by Courtney Conk

Peter Heryla III and John Rockwell have, once again, accomplished a huge milestone for the time, effort and good intentions they have put out into Columbia Heights. This is nothing out of the ordinary considering the four-decade long friendship the two have shared.

The Columbia Heights High School Scholarship Foundation recognizes outstanding former CHHS graduates every year with the “Alumni of Distinction” award. This year, Peter Heryla III and John Rockwell co-won the award due to their extensive participation together in the community. 

The alumni are honored for their important accomplishments in their life, like scholarly or artistic achievements, various honors, awards, or a long service to Columbia Heights that has helped the community. 

Columbia Heights High School Assistant Principal Matthew Miller was the first recipient of the Alumni of Distinction award due to his heroic bravery and quick action when he was able to save the lives of at least eight people when the I-35W bridge collapsed in 2007. Last year, Columbia Heights School Board Chair John Larkin received the award. There have been many other extremely distinguished recipients of the award that have all displayed excellence. 

Peter Heryla III and John Rockwell, from the classes of ‘88 and ‘89 respectively, have been a part of the Columbia Heights community since they were in second and third grade. Since then, they have played a very active role in the community. Both have been coaching for Columbia Heights Public Schools for 28 years, with no plans to stop. They also have a real estate business where they have worked side by side to help people find their new home. 

Being able to coach CHPS students has been a very rewarding experience for Heryla and Rockwell. Both have had children go through Heights schools and have been able to participate in their coaching. 

“[Seeing] the kids turn into unbelievable adults is nice because not only have we worked with them as a player/coach, but with some of them, we’ve sold them houses,” Rockwell said. “[For] others, we’ve been part of their lives for so many years that we’ve been able to see the process of people we’ve worked with turn into phenomenal adults. It makes coaching above and beyond anything I ever could have asked for.”

Both have been able to bring different groups in Heights together to be able to gather different perspectives and communities. By connecting with people through their business, coaching and teaching opportunities, Heryla and Rockwell have contributed in numerous and equally valuable ways. 

“I think the most impact we have been able to make would be all of the different relationships we’ve had with everybody over the years,” said Heryla. 

“With our business, it’s Team Pete and John. He’s always been my brother and best friend, and so we’ve done just about everything together, [even while] growing up. To do this together isn’t a surprise for us. A lot of people that know us and know how we operate would expect for this to happen in a way.” 

2020 is the first year in Columbia Heights history where two people have won the award.
Due to their dedication to Heights both individually and as a long-time duo, co-winning the award does not come by surprise. 

Peter Heryla III and John Rockwell have been dedicated members of our city for a long time and have seen so much advancement over the years. Year after year, Columbia Heights continues to be enriched by both active members of the community and will continue to reap the benefits of two alumni who have decided over and over again to dedicate themselves to their hometown and alma mater. The typical ceremony has unfortunately been postponed due to COVID-19, with hopes to reschedule to next fall.