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Teachable moment: Hancock Schools Industrial Education classes serve as community resource and in-school small business

Chris Jaehnig / Daily Mining Gazette A 46 inch steel-cut Upper Peninsula produced at Hancock High School by Gary Mishica’s Industrial Education class.

HANCOCK — At Hancock High School, the industrial education classes taught by Gary Mishica do more than teach shop skills to the students that enroll; the classes and students contribute to their school and community in invaluable measures.

Recently, Mishica’s class had worked on a pair of black metal benches for the memorial park in Hancock, the materials purchased by American Legion Post 186.

Mishica said that the benches were one of two community projects his classes volunteered for; the memorial park benches, as well as the pergola at Valley View Medical Center.

Both projects were started last year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the projects were severely delayed.

“Corona sent us home,” he said. “So, the other projects that we took on last year were these benches for the veterans’ park. We started those last year, we got into them, and then we all went home.

Chris Jaehnig / Daily Mining Gazette A large arrangement of various copper and steel art examples hanging on the wall of Gary Mishica’s Hancock High School metal shop.

“We came back this year and we finished them up, and they’ve been sitting in the metal shop for a couple months before we finally got them to the powder coaters, they coated them for us, and then we were able to get them to the park.”

Mishica and his classes built the benches from the ground up in the school’s shop.

“We did everything in here; we took straight, two inch square tube,” he said. “We cut it and bent it. We have a hydraulic tubing bender. We made those beds, all those bands that you see in there on the tubes and even on the strips that make up the seats. We bent those with our Di-Acro bender.

“Also, we just had a load of materials that were delivered to us, all flat stock, and we went through the process of cutting and bending and welding. We fabricated the whole thing. The only thing we couldn’t do here was powder coat them. It’s pretty cool that we have the equipment, the skill, and the operators to do that.”

Besides the community projects, Mishica’s metal shop continues to hone their skills in on shop as well as their business acumen, on copper art. Copper art has always been special to him.

“Well we always do the copper,” said Mishica. “That’s been major for us. We’ve been doing that since I started teaching here 36 years ago.

“I learned how to do it from Jack Anderson, who was a designer of the Bishop Baraga statue in Lake Linden, with Art, Jake, and Sheppy Garapi. Oh, this was 45, 47 years ago when I was a sophomore, going to be a junior. I was hired by Jack Anderson, to learn how to do copper art.”

Mishica cut his chops working in Anderson’s Lake Linden gift shop making copper cattails, sail boats, and butterflies, and continued on to college.

“I always knew I had this, and I did some experimenting in college because I had some welding classes that I had to take as an industrial ed student,” he said. “After college, I started teaching at Hancock.”

Mishica knew when he began teaching 36 years ago, “that we’re gonna do copper art. We started with the small stuff: butterflies, hummingbirds, and seagulls. We didn’t do much with the boats. They kind of had their day, you know, and then we added things like angels, and then we started doing some small U.P.s.”

From those small UPs, a Copper Country must-have gift business was born.

“We found out that people really love these little U.P.s, so we said, ‘okay let’s go a size bigger. So we went from 12 to 16 inches,” Mishica said. “After that, things got kind of interesting. One of the fraternities or sororities over at Michigan Tech, I’m not sure who it was, about maybe, 10 to 15 years ago, they said, ‘could you make us one of those 48 inches long,’ (a U.P.) and I go, ‘I can do that!’ And I said, ‘sure.’ So we did the first one; we pounded it all out, and we cut it, we painted, we colored it, we lacquered it, and we sold it to him for like 150 bucks.

“They said, ‘you could have sold this to us for $250.’ I said, ‘Really?’ I thought, ‘Well wait a minute, maybe we’re missing something here.'”

The opportunity arose to teach his students how to run a small business.

“We’re doing all this little stuff and making 20 bucks on it,” said Mishica. “So we got started on the big stuff, and the U.P.s took off like crazy. We sell $8,000 to $9,000 worth of those U.P.s every year.”

Hancock’s Industrial Education-made copper U.P.s can be found in three locations: Campioni’s in Calumet, Surplus Outlet in Houghton, and at the Quincy Mine gift shop in Hancock.

“We found our niche, and we could make a little bit of money on it because we didn’t have to do this little stuff that took us two hours and we made $20 from,” he said. “We can do a big 48 inch U.P., sell it for $200, and we make almost $100 on it. Obviously, our labor’s free. The kids are doing this.

“I estimated and calculated how much time each kid has to put in on copper art over the year, and it’s two hours. Everybody contributes two hours, and we can produce about 500 U.P.s of various sizes. We carry them in seven sizes; 11 inch to 60 inch. That’s all we sell, U.P.s.”

Naturally, that led to other requests.

“Then we got requests for the L.P.,” he said. “People say, ‘Hey I want an L.P. to go with the U.P.’ So we pretty much only make those to special order, but we do it. We will make the L.P., for those that want it.”

Proceeds from the copper art are reinvested into class supplies and equipment to help supplement the classes’ budgets.

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