Skip to main content.

Charting a Course

Marine Repair Technician grads find the skills to map their own futures

By Shawnda Schelinder | Photos by Marie Ketring

For Steve Witt, an average day is anything but average as a marine machinery technician for the National Parks Service.

With a highly specialized degree like marine repair technician (MRT), one might assume the career field would be narrowly defined as well. But, as these Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College graduates demonstrate, there are plenty of opportunities in the sea.

For MRT graduate Steve Witt, his degree took him to one of the most scenic locations on Lake Superior. Witt, a marine machinery technician for the National Park Service, punches the clock at Royís Point, just north of Bayfield, Wis.

Although Wittís family had owned a sports recreation shop in the region, he wasnít sure if that was the field for him.

"I got out of the military and didnít quite know what I wanted to do," Witt says. "So I took an aptitude test through the VA and it kind of placed me a little higher on the mechanic side. And they said thereís a great program at WITC in Ashland."

Starting out, Witt admits he didnít know much about the marine industry. Throughout the course of the program, he learned

everything instructors Tim Edwards and Todd Larson could teach, from bow to stern. "I absorbed it like a sponge, I guess," he says.

Part of the curriculum at that time included an internship, which Witt served with the National Park Service.

Chad Buckmaster thanks WITC's instructors for teaching him the skills and techniques he needed to create a successful business.

"I worked one full summer here at the park," Witt says. "And I kind of figured thatís what Iíd like to do. I got hired back after I graduated to work on the grounds and trails and assist the marine mechanic at the time here." When the former machinery technician suffered a sudden heart attack, Witt stepped up to fill the position.

Now an average day for Witt is anything but average. From maintaining a fleet of 14 boats to performing routine maintenance on all of the lawnmowers, generators and other machinery, each day is different, which Witt appreciates. Being on the shores of Lake Superior is an added bonus.

Across the bay on the southern shores of Lake Superior, Chad Buckmasterís story is not so dissimilar from Wittís. Aside from the fact that both young men graduated from the MRT program in 2005, Buckmaster, like Witt, wasnít entirely sure of his path when he applied to the MRT program. Nor did he know much about the marine field.

"I entered it when I was 25 years old," says Buckmaster. "I needed a life change. I was starting a family, and I needed to get a real job, something I enjoyed doing."

"Actually I started the class knowing nothing about marine," Buckmaster admits. "Then I graduated knowing almost everything I could possibly need to know."

After graduation, Buckmaster worked for a couple different recreational equipment repair shops in the region. But his career goals changed course when his childhood friend lost his job in 2009.

When Darren Hudson was laid off, he and Buckmaster decided to open their own business. Hudson had graduated from Century College in Staples, Minn., from its construction and forestry John Deere program. He had also completed a welding course at WITC-Ashland. So a shop that specialized in servicing recreational equipment seemed like a good fit.

"We put our heads together and figured in our lifetimes itís either now or never

because we were both starting our families," Hudson says.

Hudson set about securing federal and state grants and a small business loan from the City of Ashland. In September 2010, Hudbuckís 4 Season Repair opened its doors on Highway 2 in Ashland.

The two had built the business from the ground up, and the first year wasnít easy.

"Are we going to close the doors or are we going to get some customers? Thatís what it was. It was kind of scary," Hudson admits. But a year out of the gate and the business is still in the black. Buckmaster and Hudson enjoy the work and take pride in their business.

Both Witt and Buckmaster credit WITCís MRT program for opening doors that they never knew existed. Although the training was specific, it provided them with the skills to take their knowledge a step further and ultimately to successful careers.

For more information about the Marine Repair Technician program, click here.

To comment on the story through Facebook, click here.