ESTHERVILLE—Gary Myers doesn’t do it for even so much as an “atta-boy.” As an adult mentor who helps 4H members from all over Emmet County learn the skill of welding, he just wants to be a positive influence in the life of today’s youth and for them to learn to think outside the box and learn a skill that could take them places in life if they choose. Myers, 64, a full-me senior director of engineering for Mediacom Communications, grew up on a farm near Graettinger. He became a 4H leader about 18 years ago and saw a need to become more of a mentor to kids than he could be by simply being their 4H leader. Myers knew of some 4H parents who had started a welding workshop a few years ago and asked if they needed help with it. He’s been mentoring 4H kids in his home shop ever since. “I enjoy seeing kids and the confidence they build,” he said.
Myers said his welding shop is a resource of sorts for kids who don’t have the tools of the trade at home, but who still have an interest. Some parents have the tools and the skills, but those who don’t have a place to come and learn how to weld … and maybe how to think. Myers said he originally had (in a large group setting) all those interested in welding at these workshops at a time. The kids would choose from two or three projects and work on welding it. Then it occurred to him that the kids were bringing some of the same projects to the fair, and that there were safety issues with large groups of kids in a welding setting. It was then that he decided it would be more beneficial to mentor the kids one-on-one, with the parents’ permission and sometimes with them there to see what their kids are doing and learning. Parental input is pivotal, he said, in learning where kids are in terms of skill level. Myers said he has two rules in his home shop—the first is keeping them safe, in regard to eye and hearing safety, and clothing safety for the machines with which they are working. “The second rule is that they have to have fun,” said Myers, adding that he asks each of the 4H’ers one question nearly every time he sees them in his shop.
“What have you done to make your parents proud today?” he said, adding that he notonly wishes to mentor them in the skill of welding, but in the skills of everyday life. “It’s fun toget to know them in that personal way and see them start to come out of their shell.” Myers spoke of a quiet, shy teenage boy he mentored who wanted to make an “H” to put at the end of the family driveway to depict his last name. Myers saw it as an opportunity for the young man to learn how to explain to business people how to ask for things. “The lumber yard ended up giving us the (scrap) rebar we needed for free because they couldn’t sell it as it was,” said Myers. “(I hope he learned that) when you’re nice and honest and fair with people, good things happen. He thought that was really cool.” Myers said the confidence that young man gained each year was “amazing.” He said he doesn’t know how many 4H’ers he has mentored, but in keeping track of the hours he donates annually in the weeks and months leading up to the Emmet County Fair, he remembers donating 90 hours one year, a few hours at a time in his home welding shop. His typical busy me is from February up until the fair in July. Project ideas come from both kids and himself, and he also looks ideas up on the internet. He also sees ideas as he travels to other county and state fairs. He has helped a 4H’er weld a scene that looks like a duck coming out of reeds. A sampling of other completed projects include a peacock, chicken, rabbit, an infinity table, a possum made from horseshoes, and even a lamp made from a five-gallon bucket out of which they cut the boom. Myers has taught kids how to make something decorative or even useful out of scraps of metal or metal objects, even if those objects are old. But when he just needs a good old-fashioned session going to get the creative juices flowing, Myers turns to the internet. “If you go to millerwelds.com there’s a gallery there with thousands of ideas, from simple to complex,” said Myers. He said he contacted that Wisconsin-based company early on as he started those home-based welding workshops to see if they could find a way to support what he was doing with the 4H kids, and they replied generously. “They sent welding helmets, safety glasses, and welding gloves—and all they asked in return is that I send them a picture once in a while,” said Myers. “There are a lot of people out there who really want to help the kids.” Myers said he does some researching for kids for possible projects that might match up with their skills, and that it fills up many of his hours. He said he was not raised to watch television at night. “I like to encourage them to think outside the box—doing one-of-a-kind things, things that nobody else has made. Just doing something different,” he said. “In terms of possible projects, there are no rules.” Myers said the longer he works with the kids, the more he understands how they think and the kinds of projects they would like to do. “I try to help get them motivated into being their own person through these workshops,” said Myers. “I just want them to be a positive person, and for me to have a positive impact on their lives.” GROWING UP WELDING Myers said he grew up welding on the family farm with a father who loved to invent. He said one of the first things he remembers his father making was a burner chamber with a bin fan on it. He burned corn cobs in it and it heated the air, and he pushed it in the bin to dry corn. “I still have Dad’s original welder in my shop,” said Myers. “Dad always taught us to think … to think ahead … use your head. I can sll hear him saying that.” He said some of his enjoyment comes from giving a kid an idea and letting them run with it—letting them think about how to accomplish something without interjecting—like his father did. Teaching a youth to set the welder would be an example. Myers said he doesn’t know if any of the kids have or will grow up to become welders, but some of them will have gained much experience by the me they have grown up. “I have had a girl as young as nine years old (a first-year 4H’er) learning to weld,” he said. Myers gives 4H kids experience using lots of tools of the trade in his shop, including an arc welder, plasma cutter, drill press, bandsaw, miter saw, sander, TIG welder and more. “It’s fun to be part of their lives, and when you ask them what the 4H moo is, and they say, ‘to make the best beer,’ and I tell them they’re all the best,” said Myers, saying that working with the kids one-on-one produces skills that flourish in me. “It’s fun to see the smiles on their faces when they show their parents what they’ve made and what they’ve done,” Myers said.
Myers was named to the Iowa 4H Hall of Fame in 2021. He is a regular contributor to the Clay County Fair’s “Town and Country Innovation Show” as well, which showcases creative inventions or improvements to existing inventions. Myers brought a sweetcorn silker he invented one year, which was the ‘grand-slam’ of the adult division that year. He also encourages youth to bring exhibits to that show as well. Last year, one of his ‘students’ entered a spider, complete with a light bulb that ‘lit up’ its back end. “The kid put a red light bulb on it because red means it’s poisonous, and then we put on a photo cell and moon detector so at night when somebody walks by, the spider lights up,” said Myers. “This is my stress relief,” he said.