Friday, May 7, was SkillsUSA’s 45th birthday. We held a Founders’ Day Celebration here at the National Leadership Center. For me, it was more than a celebration of a milestone; it was the celebration of our vision fulfilled that “every life we touch is improved.” SkillsUSA’s founders had the vision to establish an organization dedicated to mentoring successive generations of young people. In 45 years, those young people have grown and aged themselves, and they’ve come back to be mentors to successive generations. As Kelly Persons said in her remarks upon receiving the Pat Dalton Outstanding Achievement Award last year: “SkillsUSA is the place where you can pay it forward.” What SkillsUSA is and does will always be needed because there will always be young people. And, all people involved – no matter what their age or role – benefits from their involvement.
Founders who attended: Byrl Shoemaker, 91, the former Ohio state CTE director and founder of the first Ohio youth club for T&I students back in 1946; Johnny Browne, 90, of the U.S. Office of Education (as it was called at that time) joined by phone; and, Larry Johnson, assistant supervisor of T&I education in North Carolina and executive director from 1965 until 1987. Johnny spoke of the days when VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) was formed leading up to 1965, and Larry Johnson spoke of the early days of VICA and the challenges of getting a new organization underway.
Byrl Shoemaker spoke passionately (occasionally tapping his cane on the stage for emphasis) about the essential role of vocational education in preparing young people for their futures. He said his epiphany came during the Great Depression when – as a classically educated graduate – employers didn’t ask what he knew, but “They asked what can you do?” He also stressed the importance of student organizations particularly in teaching employability and leadership skills.
Over 70 guests joined us for the celebration. Board President Julie Yeater presided over the ceremonies. Grover Bledsoe, a retired advisor from Pennsylvania and Jim Kregiel a past national officer, as well as current SkillsUSA staff member, were also featured speakers. Among the long list of guests: Ohio State Association Director Mike Cowles who traveled with Byrl’s son Gary to the celebration; Chuck Wallace, Maryland state association director; and representing industry, our long-serving chairman of the Welding contest, Gene Hornberger, and his wife, Millie.
Students were in the fore with the flag raising and tribute by the Honor Guard of the Criminal Justice Program and performance of the opening ceremony by the student officers from Frederick County Career Center of Frederick, Maryland. The ‘60s-themed luncheon was prepared and served by culinary students from C.S. Monroe Technology Center of Leesburg, Virginia and featured Tang (the orange-flavored beverage invented during the early days of the manned space flight we were told), Swedish meatballs and there were even TV dinner-style aluminum trays. (I’m thankful the shag carpet didn’t arrive.)
To see photos and video, go to www.skillsusa.org/events/foundersday.shtml. I’m already looking forward to the 50th.