Doug Coone retired from Rockingham Community College after helping hundreds of his students find jobs.
Doug Coone taught machinist classes at Rockingham Community College before it was Rockingham Community College.
In Coone's 32-year teaching career, hundreds of students - and some of their children - have learned to manufacture precision tools in his Rockingham Community College classroom.Those skills have landed his students high-paying jobs at machine shops throughout Rockingham and Guilford counties and other places in North Carolina.
``We're the best-kept secret on this campus,' Coone said.
The program is no secret to Triad employers. Coone's former students work at places such as AMP Inc. and Newman Machine Co. Inc. in Greensboro and at Duke Power Co..
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``I've taught a lot of children,' Coone said. ``They've all got good jobs.'
It's been quite a career for a man who graduated from Morehead High School in Eden when he was 29 years old. Coone, who's 62, retired Jan. 24.
Coone was born in Spray in 1935. His mother came out of the Blue Ridge Mountains and``believed in having a boy and in him being president,' Coone said.
Her boy worked his way up at Fieldcrest's blanket division until he had made one of the highest hourly wages at the plant. He was transferred to the Karastan Rug Mill shop in 1960 when the blanket factory moved to Smithfield.
Coone's new job came with a 30 percent pay cut and required him to go through the machinist program at the Leaksville-Rockingham Industrial Education Center, RCC's predecessor.
Coone learned the machinist trade at the center and finished up his high school education at Morehead. He graduated in 1964, right about the time educators were planning to turn the educational center into RCC.
Coone's machinist instructor, Richard Waldroup, convinced the school's top administrator, Gerald James, to hire Coone as the machinist instructor for the new college.
It was a gamble that paid off for the small, rural community college.
``He taught them the basic fundamentals, and he really worked with them,' said Hugh Citty, former head of RCC's industrial department. ``I was just amazed that he got them all jobs.'
Coone was by no means a typical college instructor. He never earned a doctorate in education, for example, or a master's degree in science. And Coone never insisted that his students could learn only in the classroom. Tours of Rockingham County industries were as standard as required reading is in English class.
What Coone did, however, was make sure his students left his machinist program with basic skills. They'd also be leaving with jobs. On average, 96 percent of the graduates from the machinist programs are placed with industries.
For about 15 years, there were plenty of jobs for machinists in and near Rockingham County, Coone said. Between DuPont in Martinsville and the textile mills in and near Eden, machinists were always needed.
But the economy slowed in the late '70s and early '80s, and some of Coone's students had trouble finding jobs in Rockingham County, Coone said. He didn't know much about industries in Greensboro, but he told one of his students to give the personnel director at Newman Machine Co. a call. It was one of the Greensboro companies Coone knew about.
The company's personnel director was so pleased with the former RCC student Coone sent her way that she asked him for more students. Since then, Newman has hired about 75 RCC graduates, including one of Coone's sons. About 18 RCC alumni now work at Newman, a woodworking tool manufacturer.
Coone was always very candid about his students' abilities, said Frank York, owner of Newman Machine.
``You knew that Doug's students would be well-versed in the fundamentals and would come to work and be able to earn their keep almost right away,' York said.
Coone developed other industry contacts in the same way, especially once word of the RCC machinist program spread through the Triad. In fact, 32 years of teaching have left Coone with a Rolodex stuffed with industry contacts. About all that Coone has to do to get one of his students a job is pick up his telephone.
A few students have knocked on Coone's door at 1 or 2 a.m., after their shifts ended. Sometimes, they were having personal or financial problems. More often, they were looking for a new job. Doug would have to wait until the next morning, but usually, he could help them, he said.
``Do teachers normally have to do stuff like that?' he asked.
Coone has a lot of success stories under his belt. Most of his former students keep in touch with him, if only to let him know about their latest promotions. Others stop by his house for a visit, attend church with his family or invite him over for dinner.
``The kids loved him, and he worked hard,' Citty said. ``He was just like a father to them.'
It wasn't just Coone who was family to them, though. His wife, Sallie, was just as big a part of his career. For years, she, too, would go to class each day. She'd help out in class, grade papers and do whatever else was needed.
She also took the snacks. Every Tuesday and Thursday of her husband's last term of teaching, Sallie took a treat.
For his retirement party, there were plenty of Sallie-made treats. Dozens of former students, colleagues, industry contacts and friends stopped by Coone's retirement party Jan. 24. It was the least they could do for the man who got them jobs, said Jason Moore, a former student from Reidsville who works for AMP.
``(Coone) is the only reason I got a job,' Moore said. ``If it wasn't for the program (at RCC), they wouldn't have hired me.'
John Tucker, who also works at AMP, agreed.
``That's what employers look at - RCC and if Doug Coone taught the class,' Tucker said. ``I'll always be able to make a living.'
Coone said he's fought hard to keep his program a top-notch technical training ground for his students. He's pinched and scrimped every budget to get the best equipment.
Sometimes, he says, he's amazed at the value of the equipment in the machine shop he helped develop: six $30,000 lathes; two $30,000 milling machines; three $12,500 surface grinders; a Computer Aided Drafting lab; and a material testing and heat treating lab.
``It was something they turned me loose on and allowed me to be responsible,' Coone said. ``It's astronomical.'
It's going to be a tough transition to retirement, Sallie said. In a sense, she's retiring, too.
``It's going to be so hard,' she said. ``I don't want to sit and do nothing.'
For 32 years, Coone has taught students a skilled profession. He's going to have to teach himself how to be retired.
He doesn't have many big plans for retirement. Just little projects, such as fixing up the house, for one. And being a ``honey-do husband' to his wife, he said. He'll have more time to spend with his four children and seven grandchildren. They've been Coone's only family since 1958, when his grandmother, mother and father died in a car accident.
They never got to see their boy graduate from high school.
But Coone thinks his mother would still be proud, even though he never made it to the Oval Office.
``To me, life's been so great,' Coone said. ``I've fulfilled mama's ambitions.