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After a lifetime of jobs, R.I. man wants to retire as welder
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Geoffrey Harris recently graduated from a welding program at Black Hawk College. He has worked several jobs in manufacturing, and hopes to finish his working days as a welder.
MOLINE -- Geoff Harris, of Rock Island, has done virtually every job in manufacturing except welder. Now the 53-year-old says he is hoping to do that.

His manufacturing experience began when he took a job at the John Deere Foundry in East Moline in 1977 soon after graduating from United Township High School. He had been offered collegiate basketball scholarships, but, with his first child on the way, Mr. Harris decided to enter the work world instead.

During his employment with Deere, he worked as a crane operator, iron worker, forklift truck operator, bench grinder and machine operator. When the foundry closed in 1998, Mr. Harris took early retirement and has been working odd jobs ever since to support his family.

Welding, though, is something he always dreamed of doing. A special program at Black Hawk College -- made possible by a Re-Skilling of the Newly Unemployed Grant from the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation -- has helped make Mr. Harris' dream achievable.

The $125,000 grant from the foundation, via United Way, provides short-term training programs, designed to help people like Mr. Harris who want to get back into the workforce quickly. Mr. Harris completed a six-week production welding class last fall, ''so I can finish my career doing something I'm going to really enjoy doing,'' he said.

''I'm dreaming to finish what I started 30 years ago. And I want to spend my last years of working being able to leave work with a big smile on my face.''

He said the Re-skilling Network instructors have more than prepared him for the work. The BHC student success center, below the library in Building 1 at the Moline campus, also gave him a place to work on his resume and research job openings online.

He's confident in his interviewing skills, calling himself a natural conversationalist, which helped him relate well to other students in the class. ''I get along with most everybody,'' he said.

Yet he's just as comfortable under a welding hood, working solo, he added.

Mr. Harris suggests other people his age looking for a start in a new field should take a look at welding and the programs offered at the college.

''There's a big demand for welders right now,'' he said. College wasn't as important in the 1970s as it is today, Mr. Harris said. ''Now, it's vital.''

He and his wife, Renee, have been married 35 years and have five kids and 12 grandchildren. He says he's hoping to convince his son Chris, 28, to enroll in the welding production class. His two oldest, Jason, 34, and Tracy, 30, each graduated from BHC and St. Ambrose University and followed in his Deere footsteps. His two younger children, Dante, 24, and Whitney, 22, ''are still looking for their paths,'' Mr. Harris said. ''But I'm proud of all of them.''

Going back to school and seeking a new career impresses his kids, ''who say they're pretty proud of someone at my advanced age being able to do all this,'' Mr. Harris said. He credits his wife for helping him remain patient in his search for a welding job.

''I've been in the work world since I was 19,'' Mr. Harris said. ''I can't wait to find employment as a welder and make it my last job before retiring. I'm just living the dream and loving life.''




Chasing the dream

Who: Geoff Harris, seeking a new career as a welder
Quote: "I want to spend my last years of working being able to leave work with a big smile on my face.''




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