By Ken Gillespie
Movie buffs may recall the 1967 James Bond thriller, “You Only Live Twice.” Nancy Sinatra sang the bewitching theme which went on to become a hit: “You only live twice, one life for yourself and one for your dreams.” The song’s lyrics describe our featured resident this month, Blake Ingram. One part of him lives a predictable life, enjoying a stable position as head of First Coast Technical College’s automotive services program in St. Augustine. But his dream life can be summed up by a personal philosophy: “A bird is safe in its nest, but that’s not what wings were designed for.”
- Tell us about your role at the college.
The First Coast Technical College serves more than 1,400 students with 19 career and tech education programs in Industrial Arts, Health and Human Services, Public Safety, Culinary, and Adult Education. The diverse student body ranges from high schoolers to mature adults looking to expand their skills. Taking “shop courses” used to be a path for those not capable of university level academics. Things are changing. Students, parents and high school guidance counselors are rediscovering vocational education. My demanding 14-month full time automotive curriculum blends theory with hands-on practice. Eighty percent of our graduates are offered immediate employment by dealerships and service centers with salaries running to a high of $38,000. Tuition is a modest $8,000 with generous financial grants available.
2. What path led you to automotive?
I joke that when I was young I could take things apart, put them back together, and not have any left over parts. My tech dad passed on his genes and skills. I earned a bachelor’s in construction from the University of North Florida, but the job market for builders tanked the year I finished. I fell back on my part time job at Publix. I often helped customers walk groceries to their car. One day a Mercedes owner casually remarked that his automatic window wouldn’t operate. I said I can fix that. Impressed, he came back several times with other issues. He spread the word with his high-end car friends. I quickly had so much business that I moved out of my residential garage into a rented bay, effectively starting my new career and business. I named it the Metric Systems Garage, servicing British and European vehicles. Running the shop taught me skills needed to manage a business and people. This real-world experience enables me to teach future techs all they need to know to go above and beyond in automotive.
3. How do you unplug from life’s routine?
Several ways! I often hop onto one of my two motorcycles and head for the open road. On a bike you can’t really think about more than where you are. There’s a freedom that comes with that … from stress, worry, and sweating the small stuff. In college I learned to sail, becoming captain of UNF’s sailing program. I’ve clocked many hours on the St. Johns river, Intracoastal, and even ventured out to the Atlantic. I also like to travel, often by myself. Visiting places off the beaten path is great and while there I like to strike up conversations with total strangers. Over the years I’ve built a country-wide network of new-found friends.
4. You’ve described yourself as a social butterfly
It’s kind of ironic. I was born with a cleft palate, which affected my speech. It took years of therapy to improve. It appears these therapists did too great a job because now you can’t shut me up. I was definitely the class clown when I was a kid. Interpersonal skills are a tremendous gift to have as an educator. I enjoy swing dancing, singing my heart out with karaoke, and participating in full-contact origami. Friends know me as someone always quick with a joke or story, or composing a clever toast at gatherings.
5. What’s next for you?
I keep thinking there must be something else out there for me — but I don’t know what that might be. For now I like to teach, but other ideas run through my head, everything from becoming a project manager for large scale construction work to selling everything I own and moving to the Bahamas, where as a boat captain I would run sunset sails for honeymooners.
Photo courtesy Ken Gillespie
Blake Ingram and friend.