In The Spotlight Career carpenter 'giving back' through education, sharing love of the craft

·5 min read

Jul. 16—Lawrence Gresh once helped his father, Walter, build a garage at their home.

That childhood experience began what has been the Upper Yoder Township resident's lifelong passion for carpentry and construction.

"I think it all started maybe when I was about eight or nine years old," Gresh said. "My father was building a garage and I was up driving nails. And I thought 'this is fun.' That just kept growing from there. We would do different projects whether they were around the house or wood projects we did. It just was something I really, really liked to do. My whole life has been carpentry. And it's exciting because every job's different."

For years, he has been passing along his knowledge to others, first establishing the carpenters apprenticeship program at Admiral Peary Area Vocational Technical School in September 1983 and later working as an instructor at the Keystone Mountain Lakes Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Fund's central region facility. He has served as the KML center's training coordinator since February 2013.

"Part of it is giving back and sharing the knowledge that I've acquired and others have acquired over the years to help these young apprentices establish a good career," Gresh said when giving a tour of the Duncansville Training Center earlier this month.

Gresh further explained what led to his interest in instructing, saying, "In 2000, I was working on the entrance signs at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). I came home one day with a look on my face. My wife asked 'What is wrong?' I said all that I know and have learned I am not able to hand down. She said that someday that opportunity will come along.

"In 2004, I was the civil superintendent for (a business) on the Seward fly ash silo project. I walked into the carpenters job trailer in the morning. Two of the foremen were at the local union meeting the night before. They said that the training center was taking applications for an instructor. They said that they would like me to apply to help train the apprentices. I took the position on a promise. Being an instructor is not a job, it is a responsibility."

'Vocational training'

The KML center, which is within the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, recently underwent a $3.5 million expansion.

A four-year, tuition-free program requires five weeks of lessons per year and 5,200 hours of documented on-the-job training for completion. Apprentices learn skills in commercial carpentry, floor covering, pile driving/dock building, heavy highway construction, millwright work and cabinetmaking / millwork.

About 200 apprentices from counties in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, including Cambria, Somerset and Bedford, train at the facility each year.

"Our program covers from very basic footer forms up to the state-of-the-art technology, the layout systems, including robotic total stations and actually GPS layout systems and everything in between from wood to metal to ceilings to door hardware to computerized layout," Gresh said. "We basically try to cover all that in the program. Welding's also part of it."

Times were different for young adults considering a career in the trades when Gresh started.

"When I went to school, people who enrolled in vocational training were looked down on as second-class students," Gresh said. "I remember going to the guidance counselor as a freshman and telling them that I wanted to go to the vo-tech for the carpentry program. They strongly discouraged me from going by saying that you need to go to college.

"If not for my father, who was a teacher at the school, and his lifelong friend, John, who was the assistant training director at the vo-tech, I would have never been able to go.

"I also remember the first day of school as a sophomore in homeroom. My homeroom teacher stood in front of the class and told me, 'Larry you will never amount to anything going to vo-tech.' I always wonder what my homeroom teacher thought when I would stop after work at school to visit my father whose classroom was right across the hall from my old homeroom. At the time, I was a teacher's aide in the vo-tech carpentry program at age 18."

Gresh's long career included doing work on residences, hospitals, power plants, businesses, garages, motels and colleges.

"When I ride with my son in a vehicle, he starts saying, 'Yeah, dad, I know you were there. You worked on that one. You worked on that one,' " Gresh said. "You left a little bit of yourself on each one of these jobs. That's what's kind of nice to look back on, what you contributed to the community for your efforts over the years."

Gresh said the variety is "what makes it exciting."

"I have a pretty diverse area that I've covered over the years," Gresh said. "I've enjoyed them all. I can't say that I've liked one more than the other. I've enjoyed them all."

Gresh no longer runs jobs.

A student once asked him if he missed the work.

"My response was simple," Gresh said. "It was, 'When you're out there on a job, doing something that I taught you, a piece of me will always be with you.' And that's the way it has to be looked at. This is not a job. It's more of a responsibility."

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