2002 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The bottom line is this: education is the sine qua non for a successful life in the 21st century."
The third of five children, John Colloton was born in 1931 in Mason City, Iowa. His parents were the grandchildren of Irish immigrants, and the Colloton family lived in an ethnic enclave known as Irish Row. They centered their lives on St. Joseph's Church and the activities that surrounded the church and its associated academy. John Colloton's father, who completed his education at the tenth grade, worked as a machinist for the Milwaukee Railroad. The family's home, which they rented for $25 a month, was small and austere, but Colloton says his family life was happy. "Most everyone in our neighborhood was poor," he says, "so we were all in the same circumstances. We didn't think of ourselves as being poor, but in retrospect I realize that we were."
Colloton's parents were hard working and devoted to their children and their religious upbringing. "My parents conveyed solid values to us," he says. "Hard work was a virtue in their minds and integrity was important. They taught us to have humility and to be considerate of others. In the midst of that was our religion, which was a big part of our family life."
When Colloton was 11, his father contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a distant sanitarium for nearly two years. His absence was stunning to the family. All the children went to work to help with expenses. John Colloton got a newspaper route. He also hung storm windows in the fall; shoveled sidewalks in the winter; and did lawn work, painted houses, and dug ditches in the summer. As a young teenager, he worked for a plumbing company.
Education had always been a priority in the Colloton household. The nuns and priests in his high school encouraged Colloton to attend college, but money was a major obstacle. Colloton's father, who had recovered from tuberculosis and returned home, was subsequently laid off from the railroad and the odd jobs he could find barely supported the family. Colloton's older brother, a World War II veteran, was attending Loras College on the GI Bill. Colloton enrolled at Loras and his brother's friends gave him their old textbooks. During the school year, he worked in the cafeteria and local post office. Each summer, he worked full time on a utility line gang. He graduated magna cum laude from Loras with a degree in business administration.
Colloton immediately joined the Army and was sent to Germany. When he returned to the States, he used the GI Bill to finance his graduate degree in hospital administration at the University of Iowa.
In 1956, Colloton began his professional career as an administrative intern at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). In 1971, he became the director of UIHC, a position he held until 1993. During his 44-year tenure at UIHC, Colloton conceived, designed, and built one of the world's premier teaching hospitals.
From 1993 until his retirement at the end of 2000, Colloton served as university vice president for statewide health services. In 1988, the Association of American Medical Colleges elected Colloton as its chairman. He was only the second non-physician to hold that position in the 112-year history of the Association.
When asked about his successes in life, Colloton says he believes much is required from those to whom much is given. "I define a person's level of success by how well he or she achieves on three different fronts," he says. "First, has he conducted his professional or occupational life in a manner that develops the full potential of his God-given talent? Second, has he met his obligations to his family? Third, has he followed some respectable code of morality? If one scores high on these three fronts, then I believe one can call him or herself successful."
Colloton is often asked to serve as a keynote speaker. When he addresses young audiences, his advice is to set goals that are realistic. "Once you achieve a goal," he says, "you should raise the bar. If a young person follows this approach to self-development, becomes educated, works to the limit of his or her abilities, and perseveres in the face of occasionally falling short, that person will be rewarded with a fulfilling life. The bottom line is that education is the sine-qua-non for a successful life in the 21st century."