The Student Becomes the “Teacher!"

One of the life-long benefits of being an educator in the Upper Valley for the last 45 years has been for me to encounter former students in our communities as the years go by! I have had the pleasure of seeing these individuals attend further schooling, serve In the Armed Forces, start families of their own, go to work in our communities, start businesses of their own, and volunteer in the many and varied ways that communities need volunteers, to remain vital to others. I am constantly amazed at what great accomplishments these past students have achieved and I feel honored to have known them in the earlier parts of their journey. Knowing the satisfaction I feel when catching up with these students, it was no wonder that I found myself very excited to meet with Ben Toomey during a weekend Adult Heavy Equipment Operators Training Program at River Bend Career and Technical Center, where Ben was the road grader operations teacher!

It was just over five years ago, that Ben graduated from Woodsville High School and from River Bend Career and Technical Center’s Heavy Equipment Program; taught, then and now, by Mike Howe. I have some great memories of working with Ben in his senior year at Woodsville, particularly when he took the lead role to organize his class in pulling off their famous “Senior Tail Gate” during Winter Carnival, 2015! There was (loud, but appropriate) music, great quantities of burgers (both beef and venison), and all sorts of accompanying food. I had met with Ben earlier to discuss how this could work, including the clean-up and policing of the area marked off for “Seniors Only!” With Ben’s easygoing attitude, big smile, and ability to help others accomplish a goal, he assured me that it would be no problem, and there were no problems! Each night the area was completely clean, no trash, grills returned and all the food put away. Everyone in the class, regardless of ability to donate to the cause, was welcomed with open arms, and no one went away hungry. I saw Ben provide one of the most bonding activities I had seen for that great class of 2015! At an early age, Ben knew how to get the job done!

Ben’s interest in operating heavy equipment did not just begin in his years at River Bend. When he reflected on where it might have started, he remembers that his dad would bring in a new sand pile to their yard every year when he was very young. In addition, each year, his parents would purchase a new Tonka-type piece of toy construction equipment for Ben to put to good use on the sand pile. Roads, bridges, tunnels, and all types of excavation were no problem for Ben and his “heavy” equipment. Later, he tells of being spell-bound by the road construction work going on in Warren on Route 25. He would watch and follow the progress all day long during the summers. At one point, one of the equipment operators actually gave him a chance to sit up in the cab of an excavator, which was certainly a thrill! Ben also has had neighbors, as he grew up, who owned equipment, or worked for the Town of Warren. He credits many of them with sparking the interest he has in operating equipment to a high degree of precision.

River Bend’s Heavy Equipment Program gave Ben a chance to start refining his operator’s skills, applying math and science skills to what he was trying to accomplish; and understand more about maintenance and mechanics, as well as welding skills. Unfortunately, at that time, River Bend did not offer the strong Cooperative Education Program that now exists, so he did not work for a contractor while still in school. Nonetheless, he knew what he wanted, and with the support of the program and Mr. Howe, he was ready when the opportunity opened up.

Within a few months of graduation, Ben heard that the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) was looking for entry-level employees in his local district, right in Warren, where he lives. He was hired for one of the basic laborer positions and says that he spent considerable time running a “hand shovel” in the early days; but he truly loved what he was doing. After a period of time, with promotions and retirements of others in the district, an opportunity to learn to run the grader in their shed came up. Ben applied and was promoted to this position. The timing of the promotion couldn’t have been better (or possibly worse) as the area of New Hampshire where Ben works was hit hard by some flash flooding, and huge washout damage from some June and July storms, just after being promoted to the grader operator position. Luckily, a master operator, known statewide for his expertise, from the New London, New Hampshire area, was able to mentor Ben over a period of time and this made a huge difference in his learning curve. In addition, UNH provided some training that was beneficial in the Twin Mountain area of the state, and Ben took full advantage of that opportunity, as well!

Since starting in this position, Ben has worked tirelessly to improve and perfect his skill on the grader. One of his proudest accomplishments was the rebuilding of a three-mile stretch of road in Cannan, New Hampshire, that had completely washed away. He was on site, rebuilding from the very first day, and it took three months before the final layer of black-top was in place, He was there for every bit of the work, and feels great sense of pride and accomplishment whenever he travels on that stretch of road!

During the winter season, you will find Ben behind the wheel of a State of New Hampshire bright orange wing-plow truck, keeping the roads safe for others. When it comes to skill in plowing, Ben had really enjoyed the “plow truck rodeos” that let drivers perfect their driving and plowing skills with obstacle courses, delicate plow operation, and various other tasks that operators from around New Hampshire participate in held in past years. Unfortunately, because of Covid-19 issues, this year’s activity had to be cancelled.

Ben continues to give back to the students at River Bend. Since graduation, he has returned for three major career fairs for students, encouraged by the NHDOT, to talk to students about possible career options. It was no wonder that Ben jumped at the chance to participate in teaching the grader operation portion of the adult heavy equipment operators program that runs on Friday evenings and Saturdays in Bradford. With the same gentle manner, positive attitude, and big smile that I saw in high school, I watched Ben help a new operator put a crown on the road surface that he was grading, and share in the pride and satisfaction of a “job well done”. When I asked him about how he enjoyed teaching others, he was excited to share how serious these adult learners are, and how they are willing to try each technique that he was demonstrating to them. He cannot wait to come back to the next class!

River Bend Career and Technical Center salutes you, Ben Toomey, for all that you have accomplished so far, and all that lies ahead for you. We are so proud of you!

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