NCC Electrical Alums Ken and Nathan Van Oort Build Business in Rock Valley

Ken Van Oort was raised in Sanborn, IA, by parents involved in the corn shelling business who were not strangers to hard work. After Ken completed high school, his parents encouraged him to continue his education and get trained in a skilled trade. It was the early 1970s and Northwest Iowa Vocational School was beginning various trade programs. One of these programs, Electrical Maintenance, was of interest to Ken. Ken’s main goal in receiving this training was to “get a job and make money”. His decision to attend NIVS started a series of events that would lead to an extensive and lucrative career in the electrical industry, along with a long-standing family business.

Ken began at Northwest Iowa Vocational School in 1970. Given that the Electrical Maintenance program was still very new to NIVS and buildings were still being constructed, the classes were held in downtown Sheldon at what Ken remembers as the “old Ford garage”. Ken was one of 18 students, many of whom were veterans of the Vietnam War who had just returned home to the United States. Ken enjoyed learning the basics from experienced instructors, like Bob De Haan and Bob De Zeeuw. Prior to beginning careers at NIVS, both instructors had unique backgrounds in the Electrical Industry; De Haan gained all of his experience as a member of the Military and De Zeeuw’s experience came from working for NASA on the ground floors of the New Mexico Space Station.

During his first year in the program, Ken felt it would be beneficial to get a job in the electrical field and work while attending school. This led him to begin working for Noack Electric in Sheldon, IA, where he learned more about various advanced electrical concepts such as motor controls and troubleshooting. Those that know Ken can attest that he has always kept himself very busy, and the hard-working mentality of his parents has stuck with him through life. He also deeply values the connections made with other people. These qualities led him to many opportunities and continue to pave Ken’s path today.

Upon completing the Electro-Specialist program, Ken anticipated he would continue working for Noack Electric; however, the owner of Noack Electric encouraged him to move on to something else so that he could gain a broader experience. This led Ken to venture a distance from home for the first time in his life. His first, official job after college was an Electrical Maintenance position at IBP in Dakota City, NE. Though he enjoyed the work and the pay was outstanding, the irregular schedule and dealing with “city folk” heightened his desire to move back to Northwest Iowa.

Luckily, Ken ran into an old classmate who was working in the Electrical Maintenance department at K-Products (now Staples Promotional Products) in Orange City, IA. He encouraged Ken to apply for an open position, which he did, was hired and stayed in for one year. This position at K-Products is what led him to meeting his wife, and it was her job that eventually landed them in Rock Valley, IA. Ken is a firm believer that “everything happens for a reason”, and as Ken’s story continues, this rings true.

Upon moving to Rock Valley, Ken began working for a local electrical business, Fred’s Electric, and was employed there for five years. During that time, he worked on a variety of electrical projects and gained invaluable experiences. Then, in February of 1978, Ken decided to branch out and establish his own electrical business, Ken’s Electric. It was around this same period of time that another electrician, Alan Faber, also began an electrical business in Rock Valley.

During the early years of being in business, both Al and Ken received a request for a bid on a large electrical project in the area. Knowing that they could place a more competitive bid if they worked together, they decided to join forces. Once they finished this initial project, more projects kept coming along. Although the two kept separate garages, they continued to work on numerous projects together, and after approximately five years of doing so, the two men decided to officially join forces and they established A&K Electric. Al & Ken spent numerous, busy years as the only two employees. As their children became high school age and business continued to grow, Al’s son, Del, joined the family business working part-time and they began hiring other employees. Eventually, Ken’s son, Nathan, also began working for the family business during high school. This is when Nathan found his niche.

Nathan Van Oort graduated high school in 1997 and, before graduation, he already knew what his next step would be. He began the Industrial & Commercial Wiring program at NCC that same year. Growing up around the family business, Nathan was exposed to electrical work at a young age. One thing that excited him about this line of work is the constantly changing technology leading Electricians to continually learn new techniques. Having experience in the industry, many of the classes and projects were familiar to Nathan. It helped that, he too, had instructors with various electrical backgrounds. One of these instructors was Bill Noack, who previously worked with his dad at Noack Electric.

Nathan graduated with his Associate of Applied Science degree in 1999. This was the first year that the Electrical program offered a degree rather than a diploma. Since the program curriculum changes along with technology, Nathan learned many concepts during school that his father did not, such as, programmable logic controllers (PLC’s) and variable frequency drives. Upon graduation, he joined his dad and began working full-time for A&K Electric.

One of the unique things about being an Electrician is that there is such a broad array of skills involved. For Nathan, one of his niches was working with advanced electrical concepts. “I have always felt that I inherited my dad’s electrical knowledge, and many things just clicked for me,” shared Nathan. When he began his full-time position, he worked on a variety of large construction projects.

Then a project came along where Nathan’s primary role was servicing and setting up the automated processes of the facility. It was apparent that he was very skilled in this area.
Ever since, Nathan has morphed into A&K’s “service man” and now spends his time working on projects that involve a variety of advanced, technological concepts. He services many feed mills and pullet barns in the area, assists with all construction projects and solves many technical issues as they arise.

Although A&K Electric started as a two-man business, today they employ 13 individuals and have established great partnerships with other electrical companies in Northwest Iowa. Under the ownership of Al’s son, Del Faber, they take on many large-scale projects, ranging from industrial to educational facilities. Some of the more recent projects they have completed in Northwest Iowa are facilities for Ziegler CAT, Bomgaars, local hospitals and local educational developments. They also stay connected to Northwest Iowa Community College through offering current students part-time positions and internship opportunities.

In 2016, after nearly 40 years, Ken retired from A&K Electric. Throughout the years of working on countless projects, keeping up with technology, equipment and safety standards, and handling all of the other responsibilities that come along with being a business owner, one thing stands out to Ken. “The most important task of being a business owner is getting to know your employees, caring about their families and, when the business has good years, making your employees part of the celebration.” He believes that it is these principles that have made the business successful for so many years.

Although retired, Ken is still used as a resource and often gets called in to assist with projects. Ken now spends much of his time taking care of maintenance needs for the Rock Valley Gun Club and working on various side projects. Both Ken and Nathan serve as volunteer emergency responders, and Nathan also serves as a volunteer firefighter. Ken deeply misses the daily hustle at A&K Electric, but as he begins each day with his early morning coffee, he knows the business is in good hands with individuals like Del, Nathan, and the team of employees that make A&K Electric what it is today.

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