LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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David Willey

Position: Construction Trades Academy Lead Instructor
School: Tri-Rivers Career Center
School District: Tri-Rivers Career Center
City, State: Marion, OH

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David Willey was nominated by his superintendent, Charles Speelman.

"Ask me how a toolbox changed my life."

This quote is something Mr. Willey asks his students every year. You'll soon find out why.

When Mr. Willey, now 41, started at Tri-Rivers Career Center in the 2017-2018 school year as the Construction Trades Academy Instructor, he said, "I want to create the best construction program in Ohio." This statement wasn't just a pipe dream; Mr. Willey had a plan, the passion, and the energy to make it happen. Growing up in rural Prospect, Ohio, Mr. Willey enjoyed building things with his dad. His dad instilled in a young David a passion for building and using his hands. He found that he loved the experience of creating something that would last not only a lifetime, but several lifetimes.

Mr. Willey attended Elgin Schools through the tenth grade, then transferred to North Union. In his junior and senior years, he chose to major in Engineering at Tri-Rivers—the area career center. Mr. Willey enjoyed playing sports and fishing the riverbanks of the Scioto. He also dreamed of building his own home someday. He was a young man with a mission. After graduating, he was accepted into a four-year union carpenters apprenticeship program and studied construction management at Columbus State. He followed in his dad's footsteps, becoming a heavy highway/commercial carpenter for Kokosing Construction Company and later a general carpenter foreman for George J. Igel Company. Both companies are highly respected companies known for their superior construction work.

Mr. Willey's construction career was going so well. He had learned so much in the industry that he eventually wanted to share his knowledge and instill his passion for building in young people. He wanted to be sure they had amazing opportunities and exceptional training. The first step was accepting the Construction Trades Academy (CTA) teaching position at Tri-Rivers. He then earned his teaching license through the University of Toledo. He also made connections with companies he'd worked with to build a strong Advisory Committee of 27 professionals from the industry. These individuals know the high level of training that Mr. Willey is providing students and respect his hands-on, full-commitment approach to preparing them for successful careers in construction. They also support his program with their expertise, time, and donations.

"David is truly a teacher of an art, a family man, a tradesman by heart, and a friend," said Jon Fetter, owner of Fetter Brothers Construction and an Advisory member for Mr. Willey's Construction Trades Academy program. "We met four years ago. We decided to work together, utilizing his Construction Trades students in our company and mentoring them after hours. I went to his classroom and observed what he was doing there. I saw that Mr. Willey and I have the same passion and values within the construction trade. I have worked with his students, and each year they are phenomenal. You can see the impression he has on them. He is a great all-around leader."

With Mr. Willey's connections and partnerships, the CTA program has grown from around 20 students in the Level 1 and 2 programs to more than 100 students in the Construction Trades 10 (preconstruction), Level 1, and Level 2 programs. Mr. Willey utilizes tradesmen he knows from the field to provide specialized training such as Computer Aided Drafting (CAD). Eventually, he added an aide and an additional instructor. The program outgrew its space; now, it occupies two additional labs and has an outdoor area for large equipment training.

But wait, what about the toolbox? The real reason the program has grown. Each year, Mr. Willey tells new students to ask him about his toolbox. He says, "Ask me how a toolbox changed my life." The students ask and quickly learn the tools are not just the tools of the trade, but the tools that will help them become great people, family members, and team members in whatever career they choose. He is there for his students, not only during class but also after school. On Friday nights, you'll find Mr. Willey at a student's football game or another event supporting them. Even when they graduate, he remains their mentor.

Mr. Willey believes every student deserves a chance…and a second chance...and maybe a third. He guides and supports his students through difficult situations. Mr. Willey holds them accountable and teaches them to learn from good and bad experiences. He helps them to grow personally and in their chosen career paths. Mr. Willey is there for them. He works hard to ensure every Senior in his program achieves their "E"—enrollment, employment, or enlistment.

The network Mr. Willey has built with contractors, the apprenticeships he's promoted, and the partnership he's created with Columbus State take time to cultivate and maintain. However, many of Mr. Willey's colleagues worked with him when he was out in the field and know his quality of work and now his quality of teaching. They trust the training he is providing. They know it allows his students to enter the workforce at a high level. They are ready to hire them!

He and his students provide hands-on Career Exploration Workshops to teach the younger students and local 4-H club members about the construction trade—electrical, concrete, formwork, carpentry, and heavy equipment operation. He also now teaches Construction Management at Columbus State, where he has forged a partnership that allows his students to earn college credits while in high school. With the support of industry advisory members and the community, he has enhanced the heavy commercial construction area of the Construction program.

"Because of his planning, our young men and women are learning to operate heavy equipment and choosing a pathway to help fuel the industry's high demands," said Speelman. "At Tri-Rivers, we talk a lot about working hard, playing hard, and giving back. Mr. Willey teaches his students the importance of learning a trade and using their skills to give back to the communities where they live."

Some of the community service projects utilizing Construction Trades Academy students' skills include concrete pouring for the Huber Museum, Marion Downtown Inc. projects, construction at the Marion Women's Club Home, building a pavilion at the Tall Grass Trails, completing projects at associate schools, and building a pavilion for the Senior Center. Construction Trades Academy was awarded the 2021 Community Service Award for this project from the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging, Inc. 

Everything he does, he does from his heart. He puts 110% into every aspect of his life. He always volunteers to help with projects at school and to be on committees—as long as they are working committees, because he is not one sit still. He is also quick to thank others and send notes of thanks. Mr. Willey always says, "I could not be more thankful to teach and to be a father to my two daughters and raise them with my wife on our family farm."

"David Willey has not only built the best construction program in Ohio, but he has built strong young men and women," said Speelman. "We—students, staff, administrators, community members— couldn't be more thankful that he chose to leave his very lucrative career to become a teacher. What he has done and continues to do is priceless."

Comments (36)

Jason Campbell Posted 6 months ago

Congratulations, David! Proud to work along side you each day and see the impact you have in these kids lives!!! #Legacy

Abigail Todd Posted 6 months ago

More than just a teacher, more like apart of my family. Definitely put a big impact on my life. Always made sure everyone he met, they would remember him in some type of way.

Trayci Posted 6 months ago

You're are the best teacher Andrew has ever had that took there time with him. Helped him. Supported him. I am so glad ur his teacher/ instructor and he really loves ur class the best. You're class is the best. Thanks for helping him guiding him in the right direction. For helping him stay focused on school and grades. Keep up the good job. Congrats on ur award.

Steve Badertscher Posted 8 months ago

The Marion Senior Center board and members began fundraising efforts several years ago to construct an outdoor Activity Pavilion. Fundraising efforts had plateaued, but enough money had been raised to purchase the lumber and construction materials for the project. However, we still had a long way to go to raise the funds necessary to hire a contractor to build the facility before the actual construction could begin. Enter David Willey and Tri-Rivers Construction Trades Academy. Tri-Rivers Career Center students are actively involved in performing community service throughout the year. Upon learning about our project needs, Tri-Rivers Construction Trades Academy instructor David Willey embraced the opportunity to get his students involved in a complex, meaningful project that would not only provide a great hands-on learning experience but would also enhance the lives of Marion-area seniors for many years to come. By utilizing the Tri-Rivers instructors and students as the “construction team” the board was able to begin the project immediately rather than waiting for months (or possibly years) to raise the additional funds necessary to hire a contractor. Tri-Rivers instructors and students dedicated an entire school year to plan, implement, and volunteer their talents to construct a beautiful new 32’ x 50’ outdoor Activity Pavilion, complete with a stone fireplace and secure storage area. David Willey's leadership was invaluable in the process. They arrived in shifts from school most every school day, working painstakingly through inclement weather including rain, sleet, snow, and blustery cold. Their dedication was a wonderful testament to the youth of today (and future leaders of tomorrow). And David Willey supervised, taught, and motivated the students every step of the way. The result is a beautiful new facility that will be used for outdoor programs, events, and activities (such as balance, exercise, and Tai Chi classes), bringing joy to area seniors for many years to come. Instructor David Willey, along with his team of Tri-Rivers Construction Trades Academy students have also been heavily involved in several other community service projects this year, collaborating with local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Tall Grass Trails, Village of Prospect, and River Valley Schools on projects that improve the lives of citizens in our community. For his leadership and selfless contributions of time and talent to the construction of our Activity Pavilion, as well as his leadership in many other projects that positively impact our community, I am pleased to nominate the Tri-Rivers Construction Trades Academy instructor David Willey for the Lifechanger of the Year Award.

Dax Clapsaddle Posted 8 months ago

What more can be said? Dave has been an inspiration to so many and I am go grateful to be a person that calls him a friend. So proud of you brother. Keep paying it forward.

Darlene Allison Posted 9 months ago

Mr. David Willey is very derserving of this award. Our elementary school hosts an annual career day which gives students an up-close look at different career paths and connect their learning to the real world. Mr. Willey and his students have been instrumental in making this the huge success that it has become. Mr. Willey values the partnership with Tri-Rivers Career Center and our elementary school. Mr. Willey is always willing to bring his students and their equipment to demonstrate in order for our students to gain insight on career pathways. . He values our students and continues yearly to be invested in our community and promote early exploration into college and career pathways. W.e appreciate Mr. Willey and his professionalism and feel it would be an honor to see Mr. David Willey selected for this award. .

Rhonda Irey Posted 9 months ago

David is truly an inspiration to the students. He not only teaches them the knowledge they need to succeed but helps place them with companies and businesses where they will will continue to learn and have a bright future. The students are eager to learn all they can from Mr. Willey and share their knowledge with staff and other students. As they leave Tri- Rivers with employability skills they not only made a friend in Mr. Willey, but moreover they have a lifelong mentor. He is very deserving of this award.

Steven Brumfield Posted 9 months ago

As a career professional, I believe that Mr. Willey, is exactly what our industry needs right now. He is an amazing person who cares about his students and their future. He is turning his students into amazing assets to our industry. I am appreciative that he allows myself and other industry professionals to be a part of what he is doing.

Jan Conner Posted 9 months ago

Mr. Willey is so deserving of this award! He teaches with integrity and has a deep passion for helping his students become successful. He is highly respected and appreciated at Tri-Rivers!

Matthew Pennington Posted 9 months ago

Teaches more than just construction, he dedicates everything into youth/students support and success!

Evan Kitchen Posted 9 months ago

I’d like to start off by saying thank you to this man. I was apart of his first class at Tri-Rivers Construction Trades and I wouldn’t have changed any bit of it. He showed us that you don’t need to go to college in order to find your career and even if you did go to college afterwards, you left with so many more attributes that a lot of people will never experience in their lives. All I wanted to do was constructing going in high school. Loved getting my hands dirty and getting into really challenging situations. Some of the kids in my class came from a rough area in their life and with David, he gave them an opportunity of a lifetime. So many of us left that school with so much more knowledge and skills. And after being an athlete my whole life and being part of a team, working with these guys everyday to accomplish something was so rewarding. Although as he says all the time “I’m not much of a teacher” which he’s right lol, but he’s much more than that, he’s a leader and someone we all looked up to. So again I thank you, for everything!

Eric Park Posted 9 months ago

David has a passion for passing on his knowledge to the young men and women in his program unlike anyone I have ever seen. He is giving his students life skills that will serve them for the rest of their life. David is very deserving of this award.

Glenna Plotts Posted 9 months ago

David Wiley is an outstanding instructor! We have had several presentations from students, parents and employers supporting the David. They all commend him on his knowledge, teaching, and attitude. He is an asset to Tri-Rivers Career Center, business and industry, the community, and the students of TRCC

Doris Schwartz Posted 9 months ago

David is my son in law. He lives and breathes for his family and his students. His positivity and light heartedness is amazing. He's a story teller, a dreamer and a true influencer. It is no mystery why everyone loves him.

Jeremiah Pickens Posted 9 months ago

Mr.Willy was my instructor for three years. Told me and showed me a lot of difference things not just about construction, but in life in general he has helped me get the job I have now. If you ever get to meet him ask him how a toolbox change his life. He has changed my life a lot I can’t thank him a lot.

Valorie Jolliff Posted 9 months ago

David is hardworking in all aspects of his life. He does everything with 110% effort. He visited our school for career day and you could definitely sense that he had a passion for the trade and possessed so much knowledge. Most of all he spoke from the heart and made it exciting and fun for the young students. He is very deserving of this award.

Janel Chapman Posted 9 months ago

Mr. Willey is the REAL deal! He is the type of educator we wish we could clone, because he is a rare find. Mr. Willey is the intersection of exceptional talent and heart for kids. This man changes lives; I’ve seen him do it!

Tyler Pritchard Posted 9 months ago

David Willey otherwise know for me Mr.Willey is someone I will always be grateful for meeting. He honestly did change my life for the better put me on a straight path, taught me so much that I will take in for the rest of my life. Taught me at least 90% all of my skills that I have acquired, and with those skills came determination, integrity, respect, honesty, and confidence. He is a very great man, he always does the best for the people. David always puts himself last and everyone he knows first and that is one of the greatest qualities that he has. Treating everyone of his students no matter the difficulty came with them like they were family, I say that confidently because I was one of those students. There a thousand great things anyone who has had the privilege of meeting him could say. With the upmost respect thank you Mr.Willey for being the person everyone should try to be, never change.

charles holsinger Posted 9 months ago

He is one of the best teachers/instructors I have ever had not just during his program but after it to he is very supportive and deserving of this award

Trayci Sherwood Posted 9 months ago

Ur the best instructor and teacher my son has ever had and thank u for encouraging words and helping him keep up with classes. He enjoys ur class the most at tri rivers. Thanks so much.

Jennifer Miller Posted 9 months ago

My son had the amazing opportunity to attend the construction workshop during the 4-H Career Exploration workshop at Tri Rivers a few years ago. He came home so excited about the tool box that he built in class. He loved every minute of the class and now he is hoping to join the construction program next year as a sophomore. A big thank you to Mr Wiley for partnering with 4H to bring this opportunity to kids to explore construction for the entire day.

Chris Tucker Posted 9 months ago

Mr. Willey is the perfect candidate for this honor. He has taken my son into his program and changed my son's life for the better. My son attends school everyday, his grades are above average and he also works part-time in the trades field. I thank Mr.Willey everytime I see him. He truly cease for his students and it shows. Thank you!

Vicki Posted 9 months ago

Truly an inspiration for our youth. His connection to his students and desire to make them “be the difference” in this ever changing world. He helped my son see his career path and helped him achieve goals to get there. He’s been there for him outside of school hours which shows he’s invested in his students and doesn’t want them to fail in school or life!!

Judy Posted 9 months ago

This man goes beyond to help teach and guide these young adults! Awesome guy!

Carrie Robbins Posted 9 months ago

My son Connor was under Mr. Willey's instruction for 3 years. He was a smart kid who loved working with his hands. He had always said he did not want to go to college. After all his experience and learning through Tri Rivers he ended up going to Ohio Northern University with a major in Construction Management. Mr. Willey pushes these kids to excel and realize their full potential. My son and I are greatful for this program and the quality of experience they receive.

Angie Thompson Posted 9 months ago

My son is a student at TRCC in the Construction Program and he loves it! It's the only program that accepts sophomores at this time, and my son has always had a passion for building and creating, so when he signed up it seemed like a great option. Little did I know that my 15-year-old son would find such a perfect fit. Not only in the program, but with the teachers! Mr. Willey is a fantastic teacher and an inspiration to his students showing them what a successful career can look like for them in the future. He, along with his colleagues, teaches safe practices, proper techniques, and above all else the skills it takes to be a leader.

Abigail Posted 9 months ago

Mr. Willey has greatly impacted so many students’ lives and has helped set the positive atmosphere at Tri-Rivers Career Center.

Cynthia Grove Posted 9 months ago

I can't think of a more deserving person for this recognition. David truly cares about his students and goes above and beyond to make sure they have the educational skills needed for future occupational opportunities.

Eric Willey Posted 9 months ago

From a lifetime of construction background, myself. Being a union, carpenter, and going into management and sharing my skills and knowledge with others was quite rewarding. Now working with my son in his program, I could not be more proud of the passion that he shares his knowledge and wisdom with the students and the life-changing events that happens in these kids, the three years that they are in the program. He wants to make sure that the kids touch all trades of the industry and have a chance to see the opportunities and what their interests are.They leave the program with so much more than the hands on training that changes their lives and others around them. The other skills that he adds to their toolboxes, are the most important to him. Dependability, responsibility, punctuality, working as a team with their fellow classmates and most important to him is working safely. It has been rewarding to see the team that he has built around him and the program to support the kids. I’ve been fortunate enough to be with David since the beginning of his program and watch the students change from there sophomore year to their senior year and graduation. Knowing that some of these students when they came, we didn’t think would even graduate let alone graduate with honors or immediately go into the trades at higher levels expecting them to be entered at the top pay and benefit packages that sets them up for life. And to see the students React to him they know he is dependable accountable and has their back all the way through the program and in turn they do their best for him. As a father, I could not be more proud of him.

Vickie Willey Posted 9 months ago

David arrives early and stays late on a daily basis to serve his students and mentor his fellow teachers and assistants. He teaches them life skills that will greatly impact the people they become and raise the standards they set for their lives. He assists them in achieving goals and reaching higher than they ever thought they could. He believes in them and never gives up on them. He makes learning fun and for some he’s the only steady, truly positive influence that many of them have. He is changing lives one student at a time and as his Mom I couldn’t be more proud.

Debi Hamilton Posted 9 months ago

David has a heart of gold! He truly cares about every student..everyone not just the ones in his class. He cares about the job done right, his clients, his students working for him and their future sucess. He's what draws students to TRCC! Congratulations David..well deserved!!!

Eric Borden Posted 9 months ago

David and I have never personally met, however we have spent hours on the phone discussing our passion for the trades and blue collar work force. I believe that he is 100% committed to the success of his students and the community in which they live. One day I hope to meet him, but until then I will watch from a far, at the model and passion all trade schools and teachers should follow. Be safe out there EB

Erin Margraf Posted 9 months ago

There is no greater gift, than to lead and encourage young people down a path that instills passion for your job and quality in your product. Hard work and tenacity are often forgotten qualities in todays society. And perseverance to continue down your path, even when the road is difficult and bumpy. This is what Mr. Willey expects out of his students and how he leads by example. He is truly deserving of this honor. I hope receiving this award encourages Mr. Willey to continue teaching with the same passion and love for his trade and his students, for many years to come.

Amanda Dexter Posted 9 months ago

David has been a phenomenal mentor and instructor to my son for the past two years! He goes above and beyond for the students. I look forward to all the things my son will learn next year as a senior and to what our freshman will learn next year with him too when he joins the construction trades family!

Debbie James Posted 9 months ago

Congratulations David, you are so deserving of this award!!

Lindsey Posted 9 months ago

My hubby was nominated by TRCC Superintendent, Charles Speelman for the Life Changer of the Year Award. He’s so deserving of this award. He mentors his students beyond the walls of his classroom and into their adult lives. Many of his students look up to him as not only a mentor but also as a father figure.