“I know my voice cracked a number of times, which is very uncommon for me,” David Allday remembers. Speaking in front of 3,000 people at SkillsUSA California’s 50th state conference, “It was very emotional. I was absolutely elated to be there.”
Fifty years earlier, as the first president of his local SkillsUSA (then known as VICA) chapter at Huntington Park High School, Allday was more stoic than elated while helping preside over California’s first state conference. After all, neither he nor the 42 attendees fully grasped the new organization’s life-changing potential.
Now 68, he’s freshly retired from a career that took his childhood dreams as a space-program fanatic and launched them into the rarified reality of helping build space shuttles. Allday recognizes his experience in SkillsUSA as an important marker on his trajectory of success.
“It allowed me to surround myself with like-minded individuals who had the interest, curiosity and technical skills to explore why things work,” Allday affirms.
Unbridled curiosity is woven through his DNA, and it’s led to what some might call “acts of mischief” over the years. Allday calls them “adventures,” the first of which came when he stuck a fork in an electrical socket “just to see it spark.” A rookie mistake, but also a prophetic one.
“I focused on electronics in high school,” he recalls. “[SkillsUSA] started when I was a senior. I was the top student, so I was elected president.”
During his high-school years, Allday worked as a technician for Suppe Sewing Machine Co. When the boss learned of Allday’s involvement in SkillsUSA, he asked the teen to deliver a speech about the organization to a local Kiwanis Club meeting. “They wrote a check to our chapter after my speech,” Allday remembers proudly.
It was these sorts of experiences that nurtured a budding confidence Allday would lean on for the rest of his life. “Oh, [SkillsUSA] helped me grow, very much so,” he agrees.
After high school, Allday kept on working for Suppe, and his boss became a trusted friend. “He taught me to look at my job like a game,” Allday says. “When you finish, you check your work. If you find a mistake, you lose. If you did it right, you win. It made things fun, and that’s how I still do it.”
When his boss passed away, Allday, then only 25, bought the company. Four years later, he sold it. It was time — and he was ready — for new adventures.
The first, which he calls “the best thing I’ve ever done,” was getting a pilot’s license. There was one problem. “I am very prone to motion sickness,” Allday admits. “I would literally get sick while I was flying. I would open the window and barf out the window but still be in control of the plane. My instructors thought I was nuts. I was determined.”
The payoff, getting a pilot’s license, was a “turning point,” Allday says. He continued to hone his technical skills as a service mechanic for a packaging company, and he developed his leadership skills as a safety instructor for the Red Cross. But when a former mentor from his days in the Civil Air Patrol approached him with a dream job opportunity, Allday’s interest was sparked. No fork required.
“I got the job of a lifetime with Rockwell International Space Systems Group as a technical training instructor,” he remembers. “I developed classes on construction practices for the first space shuttles.”
As a training instructor, Allday served as an intermediary between the engineers designing the shuttles and the workers crafting the parts needed to build and repair them. By the time he left Rockwell after 17 years, he’d taught 54 classes covering a wide range of shuttle-related materials and systems.
Allday went on to work for NASA, then traveled the world as an international safety consultant before retiring in 2016. Today, his attention has returned to the fledgling organization he was part of for one year. “I am blown away by what it’s become,” he says, “and the impact it has.” He is now part of that impact in his new role as an alumni ambassador to students.
“If an adult shows interest in what a young person is doing, it gives them a boost,” Allday explains. “I want them to not be afraid to expand their horizons.” Once again, it’s time — and he’s ready — for new adventures.