Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This series features students with exceptional and unusual gifts.
Name: Oliver Falardeau
School: Rockford Freshman Center
Jam: Welding and fabrication
Not too long ago a neighbor brought Oliver Falardeau a Jet Ski that had a crack in the exhaust. Oliver promptly repaired it in his garage welding shop, for a modest fee, but mostly because he likes fixing stuff.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that I didn’t have fun doing,” says the ninth grader at the Rockford Freshman Center.
His love for welding, metal fabrication and small-motor repair has made him a valuable go-to guy for people needing stuff fixed. Not to mention those looking for someone to build a major metal ramp off which to launch cars and trucks. (More on that in a minute.)
In fact, Oliver’s already got a small business going, called O.F. Welding and Fabrication. Got a weed trimmer or lawn mower that needs fixing? He’s your guy. Four-wheelers and dirt bikes? Bring ‘em on.
His skills were well displayed last year at East Rockford Middle School, where he built a catapult in STEAM class “with perfectly welded joints of square tube as well as adjustments for launch angles,” says Principal Adam Burkholder, adding the school created an independent study class just for his skills.
“I was able to build something in a different way that was a lot stronger,” says Oliver, whose catapult launched marshmallows 30 to 40 feet.
By the way, he also plays double bass in the ninth and 10th grade orchestra.
Freshman Center Principal Tom Hosford, who was also Oliver’s principal in elementary school, remembers him as an inquisitive boy with a knack for working with his hands. He’s seen him mature into a “respectful and hard-working young man with a positive vision of his future.”
“Oliver has already entered the entrepreneurial culture of this world and I know he will continue to grow and become even more successful than he already is,” Hosford said.
How old were you when this became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there?
“I’ve just always loved designing and building new things,” Oliver says. “It’s always been fun. Someone will walk in and tell me, ‘I need this for this,’ and it’s always been fun to come up with, how am I going to do it?”
As a child he loved building things with Legos and wood, but as he got older he found working with metal to be even cooler. “I started out doing a lot of welding maybe two years ago. It started growing from there.” He got a welder and slowly assembled other tools and equipment for his garage shop.
He also began collecting customers for his fix-it skills. “Since fifth grade I was able to fix a lawn mower.” He does more than fix them, too: “I’ve pretty much been mowing lawns forever” — another source of income.
Oliver has also always been a fan of cool cars and vehicles, which helps explain his involvement with last summer’s Mitten Motion Summer Showcase.
A few related accomplishments
Oliver was approached by Mitten Motion LLC, which organizes family-friendly car events, to create ramps for its Summer Showcase at the DeltaPlex in Grand Rapids last August. He took to the job with zeal, designing and fabricating a steel ramp capable of launching prerunner trucks and drift cars. Measuring about 14 feet long, 12 feet wide and 4 ½ feet high, the ramp was built in two pieces and hauled to the DeltaPlex, where Oliver and helpers strapped it together and bolted it to the parking lot.
“That was a tough one. That was the biggest job I’ve ever done, in a very short time frame,” he says. “When they found out a 14-year-old built (the ramp), that turned out pretty cool. That’s one of the things I’m proudest of.”
And yes, he got to ride in a vehicle launch. “It was a pretty smooth landing,” he says.
Is there a teacher or teachers who had a big impact?
Teachers who taught creativity, including Michael Gariepy, STEM teacher at East Rockford Middle, and his fifth grade math teacher, Karli Fowle, who told him, “You’re going to start a business someday.”
What are your professional aspirations?
He plans to take the welding or machining programs at the Kent Career Tech Center. Beyond that: “I would love to be an automotive fabricator. I love cars and working on them, and I also love building parts and welding them. It’s such a wide field. It’s not like being stuck on an assembly line or in an office. It pays pretty well, too.”
For now, O.F. Welding and Fabrication is not a bad start. “I figure if I stick to this, I’ll get the experience.”