Sacred Heart alumni have traveled the world: Europe, the Holy Land, and beyond. But Joe Kloka has been to Mars.
Well, his work has.
Joe graduated in Sacred Heart’s high school class of 1963 and continued on to the University of Detroit Mercy where he studied business administration. While in college, he also worked at the family manufacturing business, Ka-Wood Gear and Machine. After college graduation, he served in Korea during the Vietnam War, becoming an officer and eventually rising the ranks of military intelligence before, at mom’s insistence, moving into the family business.
“It was a very small, 3,000 square foot shop,” Joe says. “But I did take over and have expanded a few times with the latest equipment. We now have twenty-eight employees in the shop and six in the office. We bought all kinds of computerized machines, which definitely has upgraded our products and deliveries.”
Founded in 1920, Ka-Wood manufactures gear for automotive, wind energy, aerospace industries, and beyond; Joe has prototyped new parts, updated his machinery, and kept competitive with state-of-the-art equipment.
“Customers ask me why we are so successful,” Joe says when considering their recent centennial. “I tell them we treat everybody in a Christian manner—the employees, the vendors, and the customers.” He prides himself on taking good care of his employees, many of whom have been with Ka-Wood for over forty years.
Joe and his team tackle everything from minor fixes to prototype productions. “We do a lot of prototype parts for various industries and I reverse engineer broken gears to get customers out of trouble.” Some of Joe’s favorite projects to work on include rebuilding classic cars, he even recently rebuilt a transmission for a 1910 Cadillac.
One day in 2018, amidst the regular work of gear shaving, rack cutting, and rounding and chamfering, Ka-Wood received a particularly interesting request. This job took some high-level splining that would require a bit more than standard tooling could accomplish.
Splining is the process by which sets of teeth, ridges, or gears interlock with each other and propel each other. This is a key component in things like power transmissions or gearboxes—or planetary rovers.
“We never thought it was going to happen. It was interesting doing the difficult splining on the Mars rover—the part that does the core sampling,” Joe said of Perseverance, whose successful landing in February had America enraptured. “Core sampling is the part of the rover that is digging into Mars’ surface.”
Core sampling is a pivotal feature for Perseverance, as much of its mission is to collect rock and soil samples to possibly bring back to Earth for further study.
For now, while Joe’s mechanical feats are roaming about Mars, he is content to be here on Earth, traveling this planet with his wife of fifty-three years. “One of the greatest experiences was sitting with the choir at St. Peter's Basilica right behind Pope John Paul II and they handed out song sheets. It was Gregorian Chant and I knew most of the songs, which I learned at the seminary, so I sang along!”
Between these experiences with his wife, his daughter, and son-in-law alongside him at work and his recently graduated granddaughter joining FOCUS, he relishes waking up everyday and putting his skills to work.
“Sacred Heart made me realize what the important things are in life.”