Leaving a welding, shop legacy at PHS

Scott Jackson/Daily NewsVince Hanley shows off a portrait that one of his students doodled on a desk in his shop classroom Friday afternoon. Hanley’s state championship banners line the walls behind him.

After 36 years leading students to state and national acclaim in welding, Pullman High School shop teacher Vince Hanley has announced he will retire, effective July 1.

Hanley, 65, said that for the past five to seven years, he has requested the district hire an in-class aide to help with the day-to-day operations of the three classes he teaches — wood shop, metal shop and drafting.

As he gets older and health complications mount, Hanley said the need for in-class help has become increasingly critical. He said when he met with district officials early this week, he issued an ultimatum — if they can’t commit to hiring an aide for the coming school year he would have to retire.

Despite an online petition started by parents calling for the district to hire an aide garnering just fewer than 1,500 signatures in five days, Hanley submitted retirement paperwork Wednesday, district officials said.

“I don’t think they can commit, in a way and that’s OK with me. I just need to feel like I’ve done everybody due process,” Hanley said. “I won’t say the district hasn’t been generous; they just won’t do that and it’s like, well, that’s what needs to be done. We’re at that point of ‘do this or I retire.’ ”

The district is unable to commit to supplying the additional position, Superintendent of Pullman Schools Bob Maxwell said, emphasizing that administrators must engage in a process before granting such a request.

“We have to have conversations. You can’t say ‘here’s an aide’ — that’s not how the system works,” Maxwell said.

Hanley said it’s not that he doesn’t want to retire — he admits it will likely be good for his health — but he is hesitant to leave the program he built without doing his best to ensure it survives and thrives. He said he feels an acute responsibility to the community of parents and students with whom he has built strong, indelible relationships over the years.

“I don’t want to let them down, this has been my whole damn life,” Hanley said. “I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t necessary, by any stretch of imagination — it’s not in me ... it’s just, it’s almost a point of desperation for me.”

Hanley started with the district in 1983 and is credited by many with building the school’s shop classes from the ground up — in some cases literally — to become a nationally recognized program. Of the 35 years he has worked at PHS, students have taken home first-place welding trophies for the state’s SkillsUSA competition 16 times and commonly place in the top 10 at nationals. This year, PHS students swept all three top spots for welding at state — Hanley will accompany two students, Noah Hutton and Elijah Gollnick, to the SkillsUSA national competition in Louisville, Ky. next weekend.

Melissa Ryan, a parent and former student herself, said Hanley is one of the most widely beloved teachers in the school. She said her son Cody put it best when he said “Hanley is more than our teacher, he’s our friend, and everybody will tell you that.”

“I just thought of our time 20 years ago — it was the same thing; he cares, they knew that he cares,” the elder Ryan said. “My husband wouldn’t have graduated — several people wouldn’t have graduated — if they didn’t have this class.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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