UNI’s welcoming environment keeps family coming back for five generations

UNI’s welcoming environment keeps family coming back for five generations

Anna Flanders /
Bob Boeck, Ariella Crew, Desiree Boeck, and Christina Boeck Crew
Bob Boeck, Ariella Crew, Desiree Boeck, and Christina Boeck Crew on a couch

When it comes to family traditions, some stick around longer than others. For one Panther family, the tradition of attending the University of Northern Iowa has endured for five generations and counting.

A large majority of Ariella Crew’s family has gone to UNI, but they didn’t choose to go to UNI just because other family members went there. “We’ve chosen UNI because the environment is very welcoming,” said Ariella, a freshman majoring in biology: ecology, evolution & organismal biology

The UNI tradition begins with Ariella’s great-great-grandmother Mervil Adams-Boeck who taught in one-room schoolhouses throughout Iowa and California. It continued with her son Otto Boeck who earned his degree after serving as an infantry telephone lineman during World War II. He worked as an engineer for many years before his retirement. In addition, Otto was the mayor of Janesville, a justice of the peace and a scout master.

Mervil Adams-Boeck in graduation attire with two adult sons

Mervil Adams-Boeck with her two sons

Young Ariella Cew in UNI shirt with Otto Boeck

Ariella Crew and Otto Boeck


Both of Otto’s children, Patricia and Bob Boeck, went on to attend UNI. Bob, who is Ariella’s grandfather, recalls his time at UNI fondly, especially his experiences on the wrestling team.

“I think that the wrestling program was what got me through school because it gave me direction and incentive,” he explained.

Bob was even an All-American wrestler in 1970. Since he still lives in the Cedar Valley, he continues to be active in the wrestling program, attending meets as often as he can and bringing along his grandchildren whenever possible.

“That team is like a family, and you bond with those people,” Bob said of his fellow wrestlers. “I'm still very close to some of the people I wrestled with and graduated with at UNI.”

It was at UNI that Bob met his now wife Desiree at a dance at the Commons. Desiree had a similar experience with UNI’s close-knit community.

“Everyone just seems to want to have you there,” she said. “It was a family kind of environment.” 

Desiree earned a teaching degree while Bob got a degree in general science. However, they agree that the most impactful experiences at UNI had nothing to do with academics. 

“That's what we emphasize with our granddaughter: part of the importance of her going to school and the thing that’s probably most memorable of all is the life experience,” said Desiree. “You learn a lot of things you never learned in high school. What you learn from dealing with all different kinds of people in all different situations — it's a well-rounded personal experience.”

Bob and Desiree’s eldest daughter, Christina Boeck Crew, didn’t immediately attend college after high school graduation. But once she decided to further her education in her late twenties, she decided UNI was the place for her. At this point, Christina was a mom to Ariella and often brought her daughter with her to campus.

Christina earned her degree in biology. Much of her time at UNI was shaped by her work at the Tallgrass Prairie Center, both when she was an undergraduate student and a graduate student. 

Ariella Crew and Christina Boeck Crew at Tallgrass Prairie Center

Ariella Crew and Christina Boeck Crew on tallgrass prairies at UNI

Ariella Crew setting up seeds for her mom's graduate research

Ariella setting up seeds at the Tallgrass Prairie Center for her mom's graduate research

“I got paid to be out in nature, collecting and processing native seed that would go on to make a difference for generations to come,” said Christina. “I was mowing in the sun, and I was setting prairies on fire. It was my favorite job I've ever had.”

Through her time at UNI, Christina believes her worldview expanded, and she learned to care more about the concerns of others.

“Any kind of higher education that you get is going to enrich your life and help you be a better person and better community member,” said Christina.

To her daughter, Christina passed down not only Panther pride but also a love for the environment and biology. Without even knowing it, she has also ensured her daughter has plenty of people in her corner at UNI.

“A lot of the people and the head of the biology department remember me and have made clear that I'm welcome to come and speak with them and get advice from them and stuff like that, if I ever need it,” said Ariella.

Ariella’s grandparents were also very influential in her decision to come to UNI. Hearing her grandparents’ stories about the good times at UNI made her want to have a similar experience. When they offered her a full-ride scholarship to UNI — financed by an inheritance from Otto Boeck — she jumped at the chance. It was a full-circle moment, bringing numerous generations together to carry on the long-established tradition.

For Bob, investing in his granddaughter’s college experience is well worth it.

“I hope she has as good an experience as I did or even better,” he said.

“It's so neat to have my little girl who slept under my graduate desk at the Tallgrass Prairie Center on campus now as a young woman,” said Christina. “I'll always be proud of her no matter what she does, but I'm thankful that she's had this opportunity to attend UNI, and that she's willing to take the challenge on.”