Brockel’s ‘Nun Better’ boosts Catholic schools campaign


Theresa Burkhart

Gary Brockel and daughter Jaci both fought cancer and kept working at Brockel’s Chocolates, a downtown family-run institution.

Almost anything can be better, but Gary Brockel wanted to create a confection of which there would be none better.

Make that Nun Better.

That was the name chosen for a new confection from Brockel’s Chocolates he concocted to help the Billings Catholic School Foundation raise money for its new K-8 school, now under the first phase of construction on Colton Boulevard.

Proceeds from the sale of Nun Better will go to the Billings Catholic Schools construction project, according to Janyce Haider, president of the Billings Catholic School Foundation.

The candy idea was inspired by Gary’s daughter, Jaci, who graduated from Billings Central High School after attending Catholic grade school. Her journey through the Catholic school system was only briefly interrupted when, as a teenager, “the grass looked greener on the other side,” she said.

“Oh, I was young and I thought it would be fun, but after a year in public schools, I went back to where I felt more at home,” she laughed.

Jaci knew she wanted to help with the building of a new school for Billings’ children. The way she could help “was pretty sweet,” Haider joked.

Citing the Biblical story of the widow’s mite—where Jesus lectures the disciples that a poor woman’s gift was exceptional not only because she gave what she had, but because she did so with an open heart—Haider said the Brockel family’s contribution is an example of how that New Testament lesson will help the fundraising campaign.

“If everybody could do what they could do, we’d be done fundraising,” she said.

The Brockel family, lifelong members of the Little Flower Catholic Church (now Mary Queen of Peace), read of the great strides being made for children with the building of a K-8 school that will consolidate three Catholic schools in Billings.

The $18 million, 90,000-square-foot building grew from a 1959 dream when the land was purchased. In April a celebratory groundbreaking was attended by schoolchildren, parents, school staff and administrators, school board and foundation members as well as local dignitaries. The new school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. Haider said the foundation needed to raise another $3.5 million to complete the building program.

It will be a “dream come true,” for today’s children, Jaci said.

Jaci sees Brockel’s effort as a way to support education for all children. Roughly 30 percent of the students attending Catholic schools in Billings are non-Catholic.


Theresa Burkhart

Janyce Haider, president of the Billings Catholic School Foundation, sampled Nun Better and declared it delicious.

The generous 25 percent donation from Nun Better sales is especially appreciated since the Brockel family has struggled with its own challenges. First, keeping a 40-year-old family-run business in downtown Billings is not easy, and, second, even more difficult, health scares for Gary, his wife, Patti, and Jaci.

Five years ago Gary was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. He endured three different chemotherapies. He still worked, but it was difficult. Gary was the muscle behind stirring popcorn with caramel in a huge vat, a tough task for a healthy person, Jaci noted, as just one example of how illness effected Brockel’s production.

“We just couldn’t do caramel corn for a long time,” she said. “He was pretty weak.”

But Gary never complained even though he was feeling poorly.

“He smiled and joked with everybody, just like he always did,” she said.

Meanwhile Gary’s wife, Patti, struggled with ill effects from spinal surgery, rendering her less mobile than normal. Hobbled with a cane, she worked mostly in the backshop with another daughter, Jodi Green, while Jaci became the main front store greeter and clerk.

On the heels of the health issues Gary and Patti were dealing with, Jaci learned last year that she had breast cancer. A total mastectomy was followed by a second surgery to remove lymph nodes which, fortunately, were cancer free. Still, she underwent five months of chemotherapy and then six weeks of radiation.

The store closed temporarily while the family focused on getting healthy, but not for long. Soon, Gary, Patti and Jodi were back amping up production and Jaci was back greeting customers with a hearty hello and welcoming smile.

The Nun Better campaign began right after Halloween, one of the family’s busiest times.

Nun Better

Theresa Burkhart

Nun Better features nonpareil almond dunked in fresh cream caramel, coated with Brockel’s signature dark chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate.

Gary said he decided only the best ingredients could go into Nun Better. He chose to layer nonpareil almonds, covered in fresh cream caramel, then coated with Brockel’s signature dark chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate.

Nun Better had to be particularly exceptional, he noted. Since Brockel’s purchased the candy outlet from Wilcoxson’s when that company sold its candy store and restaurant in 1978, Gary said his family made it a mission to always use only quality ingredients and couple that with great service.

“We don’t compromise on either,” he said.

Haider hopes sales will boom as the holiday gift season begins and people look for fun presents. She said she hopes “people will enjoy Nun Better … because it’s a good habit.”

Nun Better will sell for $28 for a one-pound bag or $30 for a one-pound gift box. Brockels will handle all orders, which is an additional help to the foundation since its resources are strained raising additional funds.

“This is important for our community. With the new school we have a 30 percent chance for growth, instead of suffering a slow death like so many Catholic schools across the nation,” Haider said. “We will have space not only for the 550 children we educate now, but for 760-780 we will be able to accommodate when the new St. Francis opens.”

What the Brockel family is doing “is so wonderful because it demonstrates their commitment,” Haider said. “As Catholic school alumni, Jaci and Jodi are giving back what they are able to do and it means we can go on providing the kind of education they enjoyed.”

And like the widow in the New Testament story, they are certainly doing what they’re doing cheerfully.

And sweetly.

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