Welding instructor bonds more than just metal

Published 9:09 pm Wednesday, October 2, 2019

By Wendy Harrison

Special to the News-Herald

Even at 77 years old, Douglas Wiggins hasn’t given much thought to retiring.

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That’s because his students are important to the dual enrollment welding instructor who has come full circle at Paul D. Camp Community College.

As an honor graduate who earned a certificate in welding at Camp in 1979, Wiggins returned to his alma mater to teach in 2003.

“I thought about sticking around as long as good health prevails,” he said about his teaching career, “especially if I can still help someone in life. I enjoy what I do.”

Wiggins, a Suffolk resident, is a presence at Camp Community College. Standing 6 feet 4 inches tall, he demands attention when he walks through the halls or enters a classroom. And although students will attempt to give him a hard time, he assuredly stands his ground against any tomfoolery in his classroom.

Kendal Lassiter, a 27-year-old Franklin resident and former student of the welding instructor, said that while Wiggins is a patient teacher, he is firm when he needs to be. He related well to Wiggins, as they often had conversations about hunting, a hobby they had in common.

“He took the classroom part [of his instruction] and made it hands-on, so that it wasn’t boring,” Lassiter recalled. “He is a great teacher, and an all-around good guy.”

The two have something else in common: Wiggins worked as a welding supervisor at Newport News Shipyard before coming to Camp, and now Lassiter, who took his welding class at Camp while at Southampton High School in 2010, works as a welding instructor and welder at the company on the peninsula, now Huntington Ingalls Industries.

“I used what Mr. Wiggins taught me to get through the shipyard welding school,” Lassiter said. “That is where it all started.” He said he loves his job and is confident in the work he performs.

Wiggins also earned a certificate in welding from the Newport News Welding School in 1966.

Wiggins graduated from the former Southwestern High School in Suffolk. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967, and he received on-the-job training for arming and disarming atomic warhead missiles. Two years later, he left the military as a sergeant.

He cites his wife, Linda Jean Wiggins, and many colleagues as being inspirational in life, including former employee, Zak Wade, Camp retirees Dr. Maxine Singleton, Mike Forrest and Anthony King and his wife, Edna. He also noted that Camp’s Associate Professor of Industrial Technology Keisha Nichols is motivational to him. The sentiment is mutual.

“The students treat him with the utmost respect and I do, too,” Nichols said. “To witness this man come to work every day with a passion to teach students a valuable skill is so inspirational to me. He is my spiritual dad and mentor, as I look to him as an advisor on a professional and a personal level.”

More than likely at any time, you will find Wiggins helping someone. In fact, he welds IV poles for the college’s nursing department, has built barbecue cookers for people and, in 2011, he and his classes from Franklin and Southampton high schools converted a regular police car into one that had a special area to accommodate a new bloodhound for the Franklin Police Department, saving them roughly $2,000. By using his students to help with projects like these, he gives them hands-on experience, but also teaches them to give back to their communities as he leads by example.

The welder is a past master and member of the board of directors of Masonic Lodge No. 256 PHA; a past director of the Community Electric Cooperative; and member of American Legion Post 315 and the NAACP. Wiggins also serves as president of the Ushers’ Ministry, trustee chairman, Sunday school superintendent, Sunday school teacher and choir member at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. He loves to hunt, fish, travel and vacation with the 16 or more members of his family during the summer.

“The most rewarding part of my job is to teach these students and observe their potential,” he said. “And then later learn that they are also gainfully employed as a welder because of my teachings and influence.”