Bill, 64, from West Virginia, is the lead Electrical Applications instructor at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville. Bill has more years’ experience in the electrical/HVAC field than he cares to remember! He moved to Florida in 1985 and has been part of our faculty team since November 2018.
Thanks for your time, Bill. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I am still trying to decide that! Actually, when I was getting ready to graduate high school, I contemplated going to college and becoming an anesthesiologist. But when I found out how many years it would be, I figured I’d be an old man by then. You know how it is at 18, you think 28 or 30 is old! Hindsight is 20/20!
How did you get started in this industry?
I went to work for a gentleman who had his own HVAC business, but he also taught refrigeration and air conditioning at a career college. When he came in in the afternoon, we went to work and school would start for me! That’s how I learned everything. He mentored me. I learned the trade in West Virginia. Eventually I had my own refrigeration and A/C company. We also did appliance repair. We did it all.
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Let’s skip forward until you came to Jacksonville in 1985.
I went to work in the HVAC industry. I actually challenged their testing, which allowed me to sit and pass an exam. I got my Journeyman’s license, which I currently have in four counties. In 1988, I worked at the Mayport Naval Base as a lead HVAC technician. After a few years I was promoted to HVAC supervisor at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville. I did that for a few more years. Then I went back to Mayport to be the Maintenance & Utilities foreman. I was over everything, from electrical distribution, to the electrical department, to HVAC, to plumbers, to carpenters, to pipefitters, to the wastewater department—all of it. I did that for a few years, then I was asked to run maintenance at the regional naval hospital. My total time on the bases was 15 years under two different contractors before I came out into the real world, as I call it.
What came next?
I went to work for a healthcare facility as Director of Plant Operations; I did that for 15 straight years. We took care of everything. The only thing I subbed out was lawn care. We let somebody else mow the yard! We did security, safety, maintenance, IT, phone systems—you name it.
What brought you to teaching in 2018?
I had a heart attack! The doctors told me I should be dead. I had clogged what they called the widow-maker. I went through open-heart surgery. I never want to do that again! Recovery took about 8/10 months. I wanted to go back to work, but I didn’t need the stress or physical work. I saw an ad for an HVAC instructor at Tulsa Welding School, so I went for the interview and was fortunate they decided to hire me. I taught guys how to work on various HVAC and electrical equipment all my life. I thought I can do this!
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
When graduates call me back to tell me what they are doing, where they are working. I had one just last night send me their résumé and ask me to look at it. When someone thinks enough of me to want me to critique them, that speaks volumes. I like knowing that I’ve had a positive impact on people.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
I attempt to fly drones as a hobby! What else? I like woodworking. I also like to hunt and fish. I like to go back up to West Virginia to hunt whitetail deer, but I’ve not done that for a while.
Tell us about your family.
My wife Jan and I have been married 37 years. In terms of kids we have “hers, mine, and ours!” I have three grown kids, two daughters and a son from my first marriage, and four grandkids. They are back in West Virginia. Jan has one son from her first marriage. Jan and I have a 35-year-old daughter together, and she has one son. They live close, so I get to spoil my grandson.
What was your favorite part of the industry?
I enjoyed the maintenance and utilities role at the Mayport base. It really broadened my horizons and helped me appreciate all the specialties in the industry; for example, you have a high voltage crew—a different kind of beast—that can work on repairs to a 14,400-volt underground cable, but you couldn’t get them to wire a switch in your house. But send them to a high voltage line and they know exactly what to do! That was a learning experience. We had class A wastewater operators at the wastewater plants. I learned a whole lot about wastewater treatment that I never thought I’d know.
Did you have a favorite tool when you were out in the field?
If you work in HVAC or electrical, it has to be your multi-meter. Your life depends on it.How good is it? How quickly does it respond? Is it accurate enough, quick enough, for you to trust it? I am very picky, so I always went for a Fluke or Fieldpiece meter—both decent brands. A poor meter, or a slow meter can get you hurt.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you do?
I’ve not given that a lot of thought. My next possible goal is retirement. You normally go after something you’re good at. Honestly, I’d follow the same path: facility management and/or teaching.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?!?
I’d like to sit down and have dinner with George Washington. What went through his mind when somebody said, “Want to be President?”
What would you do with an unexpected afternoon off?
We sold a beautiful home that we built 20 years ago and bought a new home. Had we come in a little earlier in the build of the house we would have changed a few things! So consequently, I am in the process of making it our home. There are all kinds of little and big projects that consume me, but I enjoy doing it. I also have a 12×20 woodworking shop out back with all my tools jammed in there. It’s my sanctuary, my man cave. When all else fails I go out there, turn on the air conditioner and make some sawdust!
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to new students just starting out?
Stay the course, stay strong, study, and pay attention! There are things—hints, tips and insights—we give them that they will never find in a book, things from 40+ years experience. If they can learn from mistakes I made when I was younger, how much better of a technician will they be? But only if they pay attention!
When you first start, there is a lot of theory. Sometimes students who are hands-on wonder if this is all there is to it? Of course, we tell them, we show them things. We try to keep their attention. We want them to stay the course and complete what they started. Because when they get done, they will appreciate that they stayed the course, that they have become what their dream was. You don’t go to a trade school and not have some sort of idea of what you want to be when you come out the other end.
If you could tell someone “thank you” for helping you become the man you are, who would it be?
A gentleman called Tim Blackly. He was like a regional manager on the bases. He took a liking to me, and he’s the one that pushed me around and make me a well-rounded person through all the promotions. He wasn’t afraid to get dirty. That’s the kind of guy he was. He passed several years ago.