BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – This guy just can’t retire. He’s tried and it just doesn’t work. He’s in too much demand.
Fort Madison High School’s Jim King seems to be the go-to-guy for regional welding instruction, and he was honored for those efforts with this year’s Howard E. Adkins Memorial Instructor Membership Award.
The award was presented to him at a lunch this week at McCormick Place Convention Center as part of the 2017 FABTECH convention in Chicago, by the American Welding Society.
King has been a part-time welding instructor at the high school for the past five years and has been instrumental in creating a program at the high school that is aimed at one of the skills gaps in Lee County. But he didn’t start teaching…it found him.
A five-year veteran of the U.S. Army, King started a career in the armed forces and was guided into a career in military intelligence, but he said the Army wouldn’t let him stay in one area very long and it became difficult on his family. So he came back to Fort Madison and went to work for his father-in-law at Hitch Heating and Sheet Metal working out at Dial Foods (now Pinnacle).
“I was going to make a career out of it, but you don’t tell the Army what you’re going to do,” he said.
King was sent to California, Baltimore, and Fort Bragg for training in military intelligence, which was a different career path than he had envisioned.
“I then spent six months getting my lieutenant’s bar, and two weeks before that was over they sent me to Baltimore and then on to Fort Bragg for 60 days to learn the language and then they sent me to Vietnam. In six months I completed my tour over there and 24 hours after I got back to the states I was a civilian.”
While working at Dial, King was sent on an errand to Hy-Vee where he met the Iowa State Penitentiary Deputy Warden Jim Helling.
“He asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was just getting my feet back on the ground after Vietnam. He said they had a welding instructor position with SCC open and 24 hours later I was working inside the walls at the prison in a shared facility with Southeastern Community College.”
Less than 60 days into the new position, King said he walked onto the job on one particular day and the lead instructor was on the ground shaking after having a nervous breakdown and the next day he was the lead instructor.
He said he went right to work on building the program.
“We got a blue-ribbon grant and completely rebuilt the program,” King said. “I went to St. Louis and Topeka, Kan., looking for a curriculum with Hobart Individualized Training Programs.
He stayed with the SCC, ISP partnerships for more than a decade before an administrator, Charlie Schultz, handed him a new opportunity.
“So here comes Charlie Schultz. He had a manila envelope and told me to sign on the bottom line and I said, ‘What is this?’. He said it was for a position at Burlington High School and 24 hours later I was a welding instructor at BHS.”
Again he went to work increasing the programming and curriculum at the school, doubling the facility and equipment and instructed three basic classes for juniors and seniors and one morning vocational program.
King stayed at BHS for 18 years and then decided to retire.
“I had enough for IPERS retirement and i wanted to do something different. My wife, daughter and granddaughter were into horses and when I came back from Vietnam my father-in-law and wife had bought a place out by Wever and I told her then that I wanted to go raise some horses and hell out there.”
But an offer came up again that was too tempting to turn down and he became a salesperson for Dodge Rodeo as a sales rep at rodeo events. He told them he wanted to do it part-time, so he did 15 or 16 rodeos a year the first couple years, but he said his position expanded and the last two years he did 32 rodeos in three weeks in Las Vegas.
“It just wore me and my wife out,” he said. “So here I am retired from Burlington and retired from Dodge, and my daughter, Tracy, who was an associate principal in Burlington had a meeting at the administration building and was asked how the Dodge stuff was going. She told them I was home doing nothing and 48 hours later they were asking me to fill in for a teacher at SCC who had to have emergency surgery.
In January, the start of the 2nd semester, they wanted to know if I would work with an engineering firm and help design a new $3.2 million welding facility that had been approved. King said he would help with the project and in March when the building was being quickly finished, the dean of the program brought him a check for $200,000 to equip it. The contract he had was for a one-year diploma program, but the college then wanted to move to a two-year Associate of Applied Sciences program.
Again King went back to the Hobart curriculum and designed the program for the college and he said that program is still working very well for the college and the students in the program.
In 2012 after the SCC program was up and running, King said he was approached again by educators to come back to teaching.
“In 2012, five years later, here I am flunking at retirement, and I told my wife Susie we’d head to Florida. The day before we’re ready to leave, Dr. Marang and Curriculum Director (now Principal) Greg Smith asked me to come and talk about building a program in Fort Madison. We met for a couple hours and I told them if I was going to do this, they didn’t have an option, that I was going to write a Hobart curriculum.”
When he returned in March they went into a large storage area, which is now the welding building, and King said it was so full of clutter that you could hardly move.
“I get here the next day and there was a bus with 25 inmates from ISP and within three days it was clean enough to eat off the floors,” King said. “Then Dr. Marang and Smith asked me to fill the facility with equipment.”
King said he went to Huffman Welding for stainless tables and Seither and Cherry rewired the whole building. All that was needed was someone to teach the program.
“They came to me with a tear in their eye and said they couldn’t find anyone to teach and I took it. For me it’s always been about the kids,” King said.
Then when SCC realized he was teaching in Fort Madison, they approached him about a dual-credit program in welding and now King has students who are graduating from FMHS and graduating from SCC with a one-year diploma at the same time.
“That program has saved those kids and parents more than $6,600 in tuition and 95% of the kids that go onto SCC for that second year of the Applied Science Degree qualified for scholarships and some have come out of that program with $0 debt,” he said.
He said one of the “good” problems is that area industries wanted to come in and talk with the students about employment opportunities.
“Well those kids, if they were to meet with those industries who are ready to offer them jobs, they wouldn’t be students anymore, they”d be gone. So I don’t let them come in until May anymore, to make sure the students complete the programs.
Smith said King is an example of the teaching expertise that exists at Fort Madison.
“If you were able to walk next to me any day of the week, you would be astounded by the expertise of teachers in this building. I’m not talking about their expertise in their content area, I’m talking about the art of teaching; their ability to connect with students on an individual basis and help them learn in a way in which they can be successful,” Smith said.
Jim King is a prime example of this type of expertise. He has worked with students for over 40 years, not only imparting his prowess in the field of welding, but helping students understand who they are and how they learn. Every day he mentors students about what it is to be a productive adult; responsible, respectful, and self-aware. Mr. King is an expert at ‘kids’. He has mastered the art of teaching and his students learn because of it.”
Technology has made the curriculum even better with video instruction that goes hand-in-hand with the books.
“It’s HD, a DVD in color, oh, it’s beautiful stuff,” he said. “And if they are still having trouble that’s when the old man puts on the helmet and jacket and gets in the booth to watch what they are doing.”
Students who excel in the class and get through the curriculum then take on larger projects such as a stainless steel boat, large scale grills and smokers, truck additions, etc.
King has a wall with all the projects he and and the students have worked on together and even after retiring five or six times, King still is going strong as students keep peeking in during the interview to see if they can catch a moment with this newest national teaching award winner.