David Willey receives 2023 Outstanding Alumni Award

Outstanding Alumna—David Willey
Engineering 2000


“Ask me how a toolbox changed my life.”

This is something David 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 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 will last not only a lifetime, but several lifetimes.

He attended Elgin Schools through the tenth grade, then transferred to North Union. He chose to major in Engineering at Tri-Rivers—the area career center—his junior and senior years. He 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 4-year union carpenters apprenticeship program and studied construction management at Columbus State. He would continue to follow 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, and he had learned so much in the industry that he eventually decided he wanted to share his knowledge. He wanted to instill the same passion he has for building in young people. He wanted to be sure they have amazing opportunities and exceptional training.

Accepting the Construction Trades Academy (CTA) teaching position at Tri-Rivers was just the first step. 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 Willey 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.

Fetter met Mr. Willey 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,” said Fetter.

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 from the field that he knows to provide specialized training such as Computer Aided Drafting (CAD). Eventually an aide and an additional instructor were added. The program outgrew its space and now 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 in life to become great people, great family members and great members of the team in whatever career they choose.

He is there for his students not only during class but after school as well. 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. He makes them accountable and teaches them to learn from good and bad experiences. He helps them to grow personally and in their chosen career paths. He is there for them.

He works hard to ensure every Senior in his program achieves his/her “E”—enrollment, employment, or enlistment. The network he has built with contractors, as well as the apprenticeships he’s promoted and the partnership he’s created with Columbus State take time to cultivate and maintain. But many of them worked with Mr. Willey 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 also provide hands-on Career Exploration Workshops to teach the younger students and 4-H club members in our area 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 that pathway to help fuel the high demands of the industry.

At Tri-Rivers we talk a lot about working hard, playing hard and giving back. Mr. Willey teaches his students the importance of not only learning a trade but using your skills to give back to the communities where you 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 our associate schools, and building a pavilion for the Senior Center. For this project Construction Trades Academy was awarded the 2021 Community Service Award 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 our school and to be on committees—if they are working committees because he is not one sit still. He is also quick to thank others and to 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.

Mr. Willey, we—students, staff, administrators, community members— couldn’t be more thankful that you chose to leave your very lucrative career to become a teacher.  What you have done and continue to do is priceless.

By Ellen Messenger