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Local CVTC grad makes late career change

Gary LaFlex of Elmwood checks pressure readings on a cooling unit for a walk-in cooler during a session in CVTC’s HVAC lab. Submitted photo

EAU CLAIRE — The time was finally right for Gary LaFlex. The 52-year-old Elmwood man had long thought about a career in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning field — what is commonly called HVAC. The right time arrived for him, and LaFlex recently completed courses in the one-year Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Technician program at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Hundreds of other CVTC students recently completed their programs as well. CVTC honored 318 graduates in 42 programs Tuesday, Dec. 18, at the Fall Commencement ceremony held at UW-Eau Claire's Zorn Arena. The largest program was Nursing-Associate Degree with 74 graduates, followed by Business Management with 23 graduates and Truck Driving with 21. In addition, 23 people received HSED or GED high school credentials.

The number of graduates was similar to the 315 in 38 programs for the December 2017 graduating class. The May 2018 graduation honored 630 graduates in 52 programs.

"I wanted to do this for the last 15 years," LaFlex said. "I raised my family and they are out on their own. And I always said if I was forced to so something because I was laid off or something, I would go to the HVAC program."

What led him to leave a manufacturing job he held since 1988 was a change in the structure of work hours.

"My brother-in-law has his own business in HVAC," LaFlex said. "He talked to my son about it, and he went through the HVAC program at CVTC first. It was important to me that my kids go through any extra schooling before I made my decision."

A career in HVAC offered LaFlex everything he was looking for.

"The opportunities are endless with the amount of jobs that are out there, in union or non-union places," he said. "And it's not just one thing you produce. There are multiple aspects you can go into. There's really good pay and advancement opportunities."

LaFlex doesn't have a job in the field lined up just yet, but he's not worried. He's looking for something in the Elmwood area.

"I'm just looking for the opportunity to apply the skills I've learned," he said. "This is an amazing program. I look on it as one of the best decisions I've made in my life."

The faculty speaker for the ceremony was one of LaFlex's instructors. Steve Gutsch, an instructor for 19 years, urged the graduates to keep adding to their knowledge.

"How many of you have heard the term, 'Knowledge is power?' " Gutsch asked. "Here at CVTC, the phrase gets changed to 'the application of knowledge is power.' Never stop learning and never stop applying what you learned."