VUHS senior’s love of mechanics pays off in Vt. victory

WEST ADDISON — Vergennes Union High School senior and Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center Automotive Technology student Holden Clark came by his passion for working on vehicles naturally.
Clark’s father, Kyle Clark, is a shop foreman for Munson Earth Moving in Williston, in charge of keeping a fleet of trucks and construction vehicles running.
Kyle Clark also liked to tinker at their West Addison home. Holden Clark, now 17 and ready to head off in the fall to the University of Northwestern Ohio’s automotive and diesel program, followed suit.
“Forever we’ve had projects, always doing something at home or in the garage,” Holden Clark said. “I’ve always fetched wrenches for him, and just watched him throughout the years, and it’s developed my love for mechanics.”
That passion for cars, trucks, tractors and anything else with an engine recently paid off for Clark.
In April he won the Skills USA Vermont Automotive Competition, staged at the National Guard headquarters in Colchester. With it came a $10,000 scholarship toward his roughly two-year program in Ohio — and a chance to win more scholarship money.
From June 23 to 25, Clark and his Hannaford instructor, Paul Orzechowski, will head to Louisville, Ky., for the national Skills USA competition, where about 6,000 other vocational and technical education students will vie in 30 categories, including Clark’s.
Clark said the top 10 in each will win scholarships ranging from $3,000 for 10th to $20,000 for first.
And Orzechowski and Clark believe he has a real chance. 
“I think he has a great shot at nationals,” Orzechowski said. “And he’s going to have a great career in the automotive industry whatever he decides to do.”
Clark has already been preparing for the challenge after rolling through the state competition, where he said the biggest challenges were reading the increasingly complex wiring diagrams that are becoming an ever-greater part of modern mechanics.
“I’m really just trying to take some time and sitting down and going on the internet and reading some articles, reading anything on the automotive industry, watching videos to test myself, reading more wiring diagrams and learning the terminology so I can understand it more so I can be prepared for what they can throw at me,” he said. “I’m just expecting it to be a big step up from what the state level was.”
But after years of prep even before his formal education, Clark is confident.
“I feel like I have a good chance to do pretty well. In the top 10 would be amazing. That’s the goal,” he said.
Unlike a number of his VUHS peers, Clark is not interested in hunting, fishing or team sports.
“I’m mechanics all the way. Anything with nuts and bolts — that’s me,” he said.
RIGHT AT HOME at the Hannaford Career Center’s auto shop, VUHS senior Holden Clark is a natural at helping other students and being a great leader, according to Hannaford instructor Paul Orzechowski.
Independent photo/Steve James
His spare time is focused on vehicles of all descriptions.
“I have a ’91 Camaro, and I bought that for 850 bucks, and it was pretty beaten up. And that’s my ongoing project. I actually like to pull lawn tractors, and I’m restoring, painting, my Cub Cadet lawn tractor right now. And I also do pulling antique lawn tractors. I pull an Oliver 500 diesel typically, too. Field Days is my big thing every year,” Clark said, adding he often places in the top four among 30 stock-class tractors in his Cub Cadet.
With that background, Orzechowski said Clark at times offers assistance at Hannaford’s Mainelli Road campus in Middlebury.
“He’s always really involved, and the biggest thing is Holden has no problem helping other students if they need help. He’s a great leader,” he said.
Even with his pre-existing knowledge base, Clark said Hannaford has really helped him.
“I learn a lot. I do something I love, and it’s really fun. The teachers are great. Paul, he just started this year, but he’s really helped me. He’s really awesome. He really knows how to teach and have you understand,” he said.
The curriculum extends beyond technical education, Clark said. He believes the Hannaford Career Center program has helped him gain in personal confidence and interpersonal skills, and for example one of the elements of the state test he aced was an interview.
“People skills, that’s a big, big thing that it takes a long time for people to learn. It’s just talking to customers and interacting with the public. It’s a whole new experience,” Clark said. “Even talking on the phone to the parts guy about the parts you need to order, it takes a lot to get used to, and you’re really nervous at first. But you develop your skills, and you get comfortable. It’s just easy now.”
Overall the state test surprised him by not being as hard as expected.
“There were two things I thought about that test when I got out,” Clark said. “Either I did really good, or I failed that. Because it was easier than I had anticipated it being. There were definitely challenging pieces to it, but the majority of it I flew through. It was just common knowledge, to me at least.”
Except, of course, for what he will focus on while preparing for the national test.
“The ones that were for electrical diagrams, that’s where things get hard. That’s where everything is moving to now in the automotive industry anyway. It’s computers, wiring, it’s all of that. Reading diagrams and knowing all the terminology is what I need to focus on more, because there’s a lot of it out there,” Clark said.
Whether Clark aces the competition or not, Orzechowski said the big picture is bright.
“He’s definitely going to become a very good automotive technician,” he said.
After college in Ohio, Clark foresees doing just that back in his home state.
“I hope to come back here and see where it takes me,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities here.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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