Any football fan knows Dick Butkus. He’s one of those players that instantly brings football greatness to mind. Back in 2019, Butkus was named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team. Butkus, of course, played for the Chicago Bears all nine of his seasons in the NFL.
Butkus was born and raised in Chicago and his love for the city was evident throughout his life. He graduated from Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVS) in 1962 before going on to play football at the University of Illinois. His interest in supporting the trades came from his family’s background and his time at CVS.
Butkus’ son, Matt Butkus, speaks fondly of his father and grandfather, recalling how the trades were something about which his father was passionate.
“My father was surrounded by the trades growing up on the south side of Chicago,” Matt says. “His father, who was from Lithuania, was an electrician and pullman. Going to CVS was instrumental in my father’s life, as well. He always talked about his high school. The school was near and dear to his heart, and he wanted to help in some way. He was interested in increasing interest in the trades again.
“My dad always said, ‘remember where you came from and always give back,’” he adds.
Butkus passed away on Oct. 5, 2023, at the age 80. Prior to his passing, he, Matt and the Dick Butkus Foundation were working with Northern Tool + Equipment and its Tools for the Trades program to donate welding equipment to Butkus’ high school alma mater.
“Tools for the Trades is a program my father felt strongly about,” Matt says. “We are honored that Northern Tool is fulfilling the donation in his name.”
Grateful for the opportunity
Having received the equipment in late December 2023, CVS is preparing to start the new welding program ASAP. Metals teacher Wesley Mickens, an 18-year teaching instructor, is absolutely thrilled with the equipment donation.
“They gave us a welding program in its entirety,” he says. “They gave us everything we need to get started, which we are in the process of setting up. We can’t wait to have it running and be able to show the students using the equipment.”
The professional-grade equipment includes Ironton plasma cutting equipment and Klutch welding equipment and supplies, safety gear, and both hand and power tools.
“The welding equipment fits right in with our program, which includes diesel and automotive,” Mickens says. “We work on frame repairs, snow plow repair and many other projects. The diesel program has been around since 2000, and we are the only program in the city of Chicago that offers full-fledged diesel and now welding.
Mickens is excited that the students at CVS are showing great interest in the welding program.
“We offer college credits so they can continue on to the next level or go right into the workforce,” he says. “The CTA [Chicago Transit Authority] and Chicago Sanitation Department are partners with us. They will hire at 18 years old. Other partners we are looking at are the U.S. Post Office and Metra train service.”
Northern Tool’s trades program
Northern Tool provided the welders and equipment to CVS as part of its Tools for the Trades program. The company donates equipment directly to the high schools, which helps career and technical education (CTE) programs by better expanding trades education and exposing students to a career in the trades. The program is entering its third year and the company plans to partner with about 10 schools each year near its retail locations.
Suresh Krishna, Northern Tool’s CEO, speaks passionately about the program and the reasons behind its creation.
“We launched the Tools for the Trades program in 2021,” he says. “We did some research and learned that for a multitude of reasons not enough high school kids considering going into the trades or are even aware of the career opportunities. One way to address the problem in the pipeline is to get kids to enroll in CTE or shop classes early in their high school years, allowing them to learn the benefits of working with their hands.
“That is why we focus on high schools with applicable trades course offerings,” he continues. “The high schools need more resources so the kids can learn about all their career options. Tools for the Trades is designed to help address the issue.”
The fairly comprehensive program has three components. First, the donated equipment provides the opportunity for hands-on learning with up-to-date equipment. Some of Northern Tool’s vendor partners also provide equipment for the schools.
“We work with the schools to determine what equipment they will need to run their program,” Krishna says. “They all require something different whether it’s replacing equipment or requiring new equipment, but they decide that they want.”
Second, Northern Tool connects students with its customers.
“We have customers interested in supporting the trades, as well,” Krishna says. “Automotive is a big one. Similar to an internship, we have the students job shadow workers, whether it’s a welder or repairman.”
Third, awareness is key, so Northern Tool partners with well-known people to spread the word about the opportunities in the trades. Richard Petty, for example, has partnered with Northern Tool to help drive awareness about rewarding and lucrative careers in the trades. During his talks with students, he shares how he got his start in welding. He had to weld the cars he raced and became a great welder. Being able to work on the cars himself is a key element of what led to his success.
Northern Tool is a family-owned company serving trades professionals and DIYers tackling tough projects. A supplier of more than 100,000 tools and equipment for more than 40 years, the company has 140 retail stores, with five in the Chicago area.
“It’s a newer market for us and because we wanted to partner with schools in the area, it worked out well that Mr. Butkus graduated from CVS and was very interested in helping the students and working with us,” Krishna says.
“We are bringing like-minded people in the industry together, bringing the whole ecosystem together,” he concludes.