Henry (Hank) Strittmatter retired June 30, 2022, after a long and wonderful career as an electrician and instructor. It was the teaching that truly appealed to him. He taught for some 45 years – beginning with the first school year after his own graduation from the IEC Apprenticeship Program in 1977.
He did the job right, and then he did some more. And, he was good at it. Many an apprentice would testify to that. He was so good that upon his retirement, IEC Fort Worth / Tarrant County renamed their training center after him. Many former students and respected colleagues were on hand to wish him well at the dedication of the Henry “Hank” Strittmatter Training Facility.
“Stories abound about how Hank was a wonderful colleague and mentor to so many from IEC Forth Worth / Tarrant County,” says Executive Director Jonnie Vallar. “Our Board of Directors felt the best way to honor this fine man was to put his name on the facility he loved.”
Hank is grateful for the electrical career that served him well but he is most appreciative of his opportunities to make a difference in young people looking ahead to their futures.
“After high school, I tried college and realized it was not for me because I did not like sitting in a classroom,” Hank says.
All was not lost, though, because he met his wife Frann there. And it was through her that a door to his future career was opened. The secretary at Circle Y Electric was the mother of her best friend from high school and she got Hank an interview. The company hired him on the spot and put him through the IEC Apprenticeship Program. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I loved the apprenticeship program and had the same instructor, Gary, all four years,” Hank says. “I learned a lot from that man, especially about code. I always loved math and numbers and he taught things in a manner that I could pick up easily.”
When he graduated in 1977, he had been the outstanding apprentice for three of the four years. He continued to work in the field, mostly doing service work, and loved the supportive environment of the independent contractor system. He said there was a fair amount of sharing employees in the early days because if one company was slow, the owner would call another to say he’s got three or four guys and no work for them. The other company usually said to send the employees over and they’d put them to work.
“I also learned that if you show up every day, don’t complain about what you’re doing, be on time, and don’t goof around, you’ll work 12 months out of every year,” Hank says.
But his real passion remained in the classroom.
Loved Those First Years
While having taught every year of the four-year IEC Apprenticeship Program, Hank’s favorite was always first year. He felt he could have the most influence there, especially in terms of teaching safety.
“Early in my career, I learned an important lesson due to my own ignorance – I got two jolts of 7,200 volts,” he remembers. “I thought I knew what I was doing but I didn’t. I told this unfortunate story to every class I taught and cautioned my students if you do not know what you are doing, do not do it. Leave it alone until you find out and understand it. If you don’t think it’s safe you definitely have the right to tell that journeyman, ‘No, I’m not going to do that. I do not think it’s safe.’”
Being real with his classes earned him respect and trust. Hank gave exams daily and homework as well. He wanted to be sure that he taught topics fully, so that his students could be successful and safe. Second year instructors often told Hank that they could tell which of their students came from his classes based on their preparation and enthusiasm.
He went the extra mile on more than one occasion and never gave up on a student. Hank tells of one student who was struggling and that he probably was spending a bit too much time further explaining a lesson for this student to the detriment of others in the class.
“I told him when class is over with, at 10 o’clock at night, ‘you stay here and I’ll stay here as long as I need to until you understand it. The reports I get from your contractor say you are a hard worker.’ We stayed there another couple of hours until he grasped it.”
Hank said he turned out to be the best student in the class that year and appreciative of the investment Hank made in him.
In May of 2012, Hank was hired as the apprenticeship coordinator at IEC Fort Worth / Tarrant County and had to stop full-time teaching. However, he continued to find ways to influence students and interest prospective students. In June of 2021, Hank moved up to vice president of education.
The chapter always was involved in reaching out to high school students but Hank put additional effort into formalizing those relationships. Like in many places, Texas high schools had gotten away from shop classes and he felt it was affecting the trades’ ability to find good, skilled apprentices. They went to work. Today, IEC Fort Worth/Tarrant County Chapter partners with high schools offering a path to a career in the electrical trade with high pay and great benefits. The High School Career Training Program, which is approved by the Texas Education Agency, is available for students in high school. Hank was instrumental in this effort by providing curriculum, writing exams, and training the high school teachers.
“It’s a win-win,” says Jonnie. “Students who attend the class offered at their high school can complete the first year of the IEC four-year electrical apprenticeship program with potential for part-time employment during high school. Upon successfully completing the high school program, students can move into the second year of the IEC program with potential for full-time employment when they graduate from high school. There is no cost to the student for the high school program.”
More Words of Advice
In addition to the earlier thoughts about being on time and working hard, Hank encourages students to challenge themselves.
“I worked with electricians that hated to wire houses; they were bored by what some might call cookie cutter work,” Hank describes. “You’re doing the same thing you did in House A on House B. I looked at it to find a challenge. When I went to House B, I would say to myself, can I do it faster? What can I do to save material? Always look to push yourself to improve.”
He mentions this was another reason he liked working for independent contractors – they reward you for the work you do.
“I’ve worked alongside those who were complaining and fussing, and they would sometimes be making $5 an hour less than I was. I pushed myself, and I was rewarded.”
“Thanks, Hank, for your years of service and your fine example,” Jonnie concludes. “Now go enjoy messing around with those grandkids!”