After running a family business called Big Bounce Rentals for almost two decades with his wife and sons, Navy veteran Joey Mathis decided they “needed a change.”
“We felt like [our sons’] potential wasn’t being met. And we didn’t want them to be tied down because of feeling that they owed [it] to us to be there,” said Joey Mathis.
The family sat around their table at their home in Madison, deciding on their next move. Eventually, they turned to a trade school.
“And it took a little while for all of us to get used to the idea of going back to school and getting an education, but it was a necessary thing we had to do together,” said Austin Mathis, Joey’s 28-year-old son.
After a campus tour of Drake State Community & Technical College, nearly two years ago, Joey and his sons, Austin and Avery, decided the welding program was the right course.
“I was a boiler tech in the Navy and I had a friend that was a welder, a hull technician. And just like anything else, the boiler tech fascinated him and the welding fascinated me. And I’ve always wanted to do that, even though I never struck a torch before I set foot on this campus,” said Joey.
Joey said it was tough going from being the boss for 18 years to becoming a student once again, but he said learning alongside his sons was the key to his success.
“We were all taking turns. We pushed each other. We held each other accountable and then it came to a point where we started doing the right things at the right moment, and we could actually start helping other students because they started coming to us asking for help,” said Joey.
Advanced Manufacturing Chair Bob Grissim said after teaching for eight years at Drake State, this was the first time he taught two generations of a family in one classroom.
"They drove each other to do it and they would aggravate one another and they had a good rapport with each other and they pushed to excel. And they also brought in other people as well,” said Grissim.
The brothers became teacher aides and all three of them routinely helped other students when needed.
All three of them went on to graduate Thursday night with honors from the program. They credit the boys’ mother and Austin’s wife for holding down the financial fort while they went to school.
“For them, it was kind of a long-term investment. They put in some extra work for those two years and then we can come back in and make it better for all of us,” said Avery.
Joey took on an extra course load, which allowed him to finish classes in December and land a job with Millwright Union Local 1192, which operates in Alabama and Mississippi. Meanwhile, his sons are scoping out job prospects.
They said that one day, they hope to reunite to form a new family business.
“I think that is the overall goal. We're going to join the workforce for about 10, 15 years and then later on when we’re a little bit more seasoned I want to, I would love to get back in the family business and work with these guys some more,” said Austin.