Boardman Freshman Honors Mentor with Donation to Makers Club

BOARDMAN, Ohio — As a young boy, Frank Quinlan remembers his grandfather taking him to construction sites to watch workers complete big projects.

“We would just watch them for the whole day,” he says. “We’ve seen them redo U.S. Route 224, we saw them build Dick’s [Sporting Goods].”

When Quinlan got older, his dad, David, who works in HVAC, would take him to job sites for geothermal projects where workers put piping into the ground. Bendel Excavating Inc., or BEI, would do the excavation work for those projects. That’s how Quinlan came to know BEI’s president, the late Steve Bendel Jr., who would become his friend and mentor.

Quinlan, who will begin his freshman year at Boardman High School, would lend a hand during the geothermal jobs, then during summer breaks he would go work for BEI, he says.

“It was a fun experience,” Quinlan says. “I got to learn a lot of stuff, like how to use the laser, how to run grade, how pipe flows and everything.”

He also learned to use the tools of the trade such as various types of saws, and how to operate the equipment.

Quinlan always had a love for construction and digging equipment, recalls his mother, Jenn. As he worked with Bendel each summer and learned more about the work, putting in 40-hour weeks like the other workers, that love for construction only increased, she says.

“It blossomed from there,” Jenn Quinlan says. “We felt comfortable with Steve because we knew he would watch Frankie. It’s not every day you send your young kid to a construction site.”

As her son’s knowledge increased, she also noticed his work ethic became stronger. “He’s there to do a job and he’s going to get it done,” she says.

It’s something that Frank Quinlan attributes to his time working under Bendel, he says.

“He was always the guy who would give back to everybody,” Quinlan says. “He would always put everybody first before him. If he was in the middle of doing something and you asked him for something, he would drop it and come help you.”

So when Bendel died suddenly from a heart attack May 12, Quinlan wanted to do something special in his memory. He and his mother established the Steve Bendel Jr. Ditch Digger Memorial Fund via Go Fund Me.

In the few months the fund has been active, it’s exceeded the $10,000 goal and stands at $11,580 as of July 31.

Initially, the idea was to donate the proceeds to the Mike Rowe Works Foundation, which is working to get the next generation interested in working in demand skilled labor jobs. But in memory of Bendel, Quinlan felt it was appropriate to keep some of the proceeds local and reinvest them into the Boardman Makers Club and the wood shop at Boardman High School, of which Bendel is an alumnus.

Quinlan participated in Makers Club, which meets in the design lab at Boardman Glenwood Junior High School. While the club is optional, students are required to complete nine weeks of a technology and design class where they learn to use traditional hand and power tools, along with 3D printers and laser engravers.

Tim Harker, design lab teacher and instructor for the Makers Club, has a few ideas on how to spend the proceeds. Some will likely be put toward restocking the lab’s consumable materials – such as pallet wood and fasteners – which are always needed but in short supply, he says.

“It’s always good to have stuff on hand,” Harker says. “We rely a lot on donations. A lot of the equipment here was donated from various people.”

Ideally, he would like to transform the shop to make the space more flexible, he says. One option is to purchase shop tables that are on wheels and have work benches attached to them. One table costs around $2,500.

“They’re not cheap, so we’re writing some grants for that and trying to save some money,” Harker says.

Interest in the Makers Club is strong; the club draws 35 to 40 students consistently.

Skills gained in the lab and Makers Club are ideal for students interested in working local trades jobs, he says. But even if they don’t pursue STEM or the trades after high school, they are also learning important life skills, which is important to Harker.

“Giving that spark in kids, regardless of where they take it, is really important,” he says.

Quinlan is happy knowing that proceeds from the Bendel fund will plant the seed for more students to get that experience, he says.

“It’s cool knowing that some kids might see this and say, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool. I want to go try that,’ ” Quinlan says. “And even if they don’t like it, they tried it. So they know what they want to do.”

As for his future, Quinlan plans to start his own excavation company after he graduates from high school.

Donations are still being accepted for the Steve Bendel Jr. Ditch Digger Memorial Fund. Click HERE to make a donation.

Pictured: Tim Harker and Frank Quinlan work with a 3D printer in the Boardman Makers Club lab.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.