Norwich Tech senior becomes his family's third generation in the HVAC trade

May 26—Editor's note: For the past 30 years, The Day has profiled remarkable seniors at each of the region's high schools during graduation season.

Norwich ― When Josh Hanks walked into Norwich Technical High School as a freshman in 2019, he knew exactly where he wanted to be in four years: graduate with skills to get his state HVAC license, have a good job and follow in his father's and grandfather's career footsteps.

Hanks, 17, of Canterbury, is on the verge of checking all those boxes with additional accomplishments as a star athlete in baseball and basketball at Norwich Tech. His only regret at this stage is the prospect of leaving baseball behind, the sport that is his passion, as he embarks on his burgeoning career.

"I love the trade," Hanks said. "There's a lot to it. It's quite interesting. When I was a kid, my grandfather and my dad both worked in the trade. I've been around it my whole life."

As a youth, Hanks figured he would go to Norwich Tech, like his dad, Donnie Hanks, Jr., major in HVAC, get an apprenticeship job his junior year, graduate, finish working the required hours to get his license, boost his pay and be on his way.

Hanks was accepted into the highly competitive Norwich Tech HVAC program in 2019. In December of his junior year, he contacted Saveway Petroleum in Danielson, a sister company to Uncas Gas in Franklin, where his grandfather, Donnie Hanks, Sr., had worked. Hanks started working at Saveway in January 2022 and now is within reach of qualifying for his state HVAC license.

"Graduation is one step, and then I go back to my license," Hanks said.

"My son is very scheduled," his mother, Monique Hanks said. "He's in a great spot in his life. He has a career, a great sport in baseball. He's humble and dedicated. In fourth grade, he knew where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. He's been doing it for a very long time."

The COVID-19 disruption in the spring of his freshman year and into his junior year did not alter his plans, although unlike many of his peers, he was not adept at working on computers when classes switched to remote access.

"The first two years, it was crazy," Hanks said. "Freshman year, we made it almost all the way through all right. And now, learn how to do it from home. I don't know anything about computer stuff. I was never intrigued by the computer. We could only really do bookwork, which sucked. That's why some kids, especially in my class, and the class under me, they lack some of the hands-on part, not by their choice, but by not being here."

Hanks turned to his father, a Norwich Tech HVAC graduate and a natural gas installer for National Pipeline Construction in the New Haven area. They worked on the boiler together in the family's Canterbury home, and when the pandemic eased, Hanks readily resumed his plan.

On April 28, Saveway assigned him to Uncas Gas in Franklin to install a new central air conditioning unit in the building where his grandfather had worked.

Saveway now has two Norwich Tech students working there, said general manager Bill Dickey, who accompanied Hanks to Uncas Gas on April 28.

"It's been exciting to see them get better and get ready to be licensed," Dickey said.

Hanks has perfect attendance all four years at Norwich Tech, but he rarely went to school this year. Most days, Hanks reports straight to Saveway and then accompanies licensed technicians and supervisors to a job site in the region.

"I've been here, maybe 10 days for shop in school this year," Hanks said.

"He's one of those kids where you can turn your back and know he's not going to do the wrong thing," said his shop teacher, Russ Stockton. "I know if I leave him in the attic to work, he's in the attic working. If he's in the basement and I have to help a kid on the first floor, I can go to the first floor."

The Norwich Tech HVAC program is popular getting 25 or 30 applicants for the 18 open positions each year.

"Right from the start, we knew by his interest level that this was where he wanted to go," Stockton said. "He made it very clear that this was his number one pick."

After graduation, Hanks hopes to work full time for Saveway, his pay increasing after he gets his state license, and eventually follow his father's footsteps again and become a natural gas line installer.

Hanks approaches sports the same way. He is the catcher and only captain on the Norwich Tech baseball team and was the leading scorer on the school's basketball team this season.

But baseball has been his passion since he was a kid.

The family turned the backyard into a baseball diamond. Hanks loves to mow the grass. While other kids might post goofy photos to Snapchat, Hanks posts photos of his newly cut baseball field.

"We're big baseball fans," Donnie Hanks, Jr., said. "Any time you can smell the cut grass and see the lines. He made me buy a Scag Zero-Turn Mower. He showed me all the specs and what it does. He does his homework. He could be a good sales rep. I see the outcome and say, 'OK, you win.'"

Losing the chance to play competitive baseball at a high level made his decision not to go to college a bit more difficult, Hanks said.

But his parents and Stockton, the school's assistant baseball coach, have no doubts that coaching will be in Hanks' future.

"It's definitely going to be sad to leave baseball, the sport I love to play," Hanks said. "Definitely, if I have kids, I'm going to be their coach. Maybe I'll consider being a coach if I was doing well for myself doing HVAC. Maybe ask if I could coach more."