STAPLES -- Don Larson is following in son Clint's footsteps.
Don, a 46-year-old former National Hockey League goal manufacturer, just completed his first year as a student at Central Lakes College.
Clint, a 20-year-old ex-employee of Don's, just graduated with honors from the same school.
They spent the past year in the Robotics and Automated Systems Technology program at the Staples campus. The two-year program offers an associate in applied science degree, as well as a Diploma of Occupational Proficiency.
"It's nice to be on top of the totem pole," said the younger Larson, who is employed at Brenton Engineering in Alexandria. He can joke about it now. There was a time he had doubts.
First there was Dad's decision to close the doors at the west-central Minnesota welding business he'd operated for a decade. That meant change for the whole family, including Don's wife, Julie, the shop's bookkeeper.
When the elder Larson announced he was thinking of joining Clint at the college in Staples, a period of adjustment set in. Clint had little to say for a few weeks. He needed time to absorb the information. He had to contemplate college life "hanging out with Dad."
Turns out they didn't see that much of each other, despite sharing a campus with fewer than 500 students. Robotics students have little time for much beyond the demands of the coursework.
"The first semester of the first year is toughest," said Clint, his dad nodding agreement.
"That's so true," Don said. "They say if you can make it through that you can make it the rest of the way. Everything is thrown at you that first semester."
Clint Larson, one of the top robotics and automated systems graduates at Central Lakes College, showed his father, Don, what to expect when the senior Larson enters the second-year program. The younger Larson was hired by a firm where he had an internship this spring. Don Larson closed a welding shop to follow a career path similar to that of his son.
Mature attitude is a crucial element of the senior Larson's ability to make the transition successfully from business owner to student.
"Each night I went to the farm home near Staples where I stay during the school week," Don said. "I studied several hours every day outside of the full day in lab work."
Did Dad and son share study nights?
"Didn't happen," said Clint, smiling and then complimenting Dad. "He's pretty smart and catches on quickly. I got a couple calls when there were questions. But we didn't really see that much of each other. I had my buddies and my own place. Dad did his own thing."
To Clint's credit, a work ethic groomed from teen-year labors served him well. He sacrificed a promising high school athletic career to earn money for career education.
"I worked after school for my dad," said Clint. "We built about 150 steel hockey goals a year for the NHL for eight years or so."
Clint also worked on uncle Paul Raths' farm near Herman. And he was employed by a custom ditching service in the agricultural region around his hometown, Herman, about 20 miles east of the Minnesota-South Dakota border in southern Grant County.
Clint is described by instructor Greg Scheler as "a program-maker." The pride and joy of those who teach them are top students recruited by reputable companies. Scheler said he was not surprised when Brenton Engineering came calling for Clint.
A 10-week internship led to the employment offer. Today, Clint is a field representative and machine assembly technician for the Alexandria manufacturer with 144 employees.
Opportunities abound at other reputable firms that hire exemplary students. Clint likes working near his roots and friends.
He looks forward to attending his dad's graduation from college, returning the congratulatory handshakes and applause that marked Clint's recent milestone.
The Larsons will remain in the Herman area through the college years and through the completion of high school by the last member of the family, Clint's younger brother. Mother Julie is a dental assistant in Alexandria.
"We may stay around, but Julie and I could probably both find work elsewhere in our fields," said Don, who has no regrets about his decision to learn new skills. He had checked into a similar technical program in Alexandria before choosing Central Lakes College in Staples.
"This is a great place to focus on something new and really dig into it," Don said. "As long as I have a quiet place to study and good instruction that covers current and relevant technology, I feel I will find a good job after I finish."
Would he follow his son to the same company? "Who knows?" Don said with a shrug. "He might even be my boss some day," said the proud father.
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