Islanders may not know him as “Doc,” but it’s a name Larry Lechmanski’s former Southampton students gave him many years ago for his abilities to fix what went wrong with anything mechanical.
“Doc” spent 33 years teaching what was originally known as “shop,” but became “industrial arts,” “industrial technology” and finally “technology.”
His clear love of the job and his ability to reach students who may have dropped out of school but stayed because of shop classes, is why the Southampton School District is honoring him Friday night at the high school auditorium. He will be recognized as one of two men joining those on the school’s Wall of Distinction for his contributions to education.
The other honoree is the late Reverend Marvin Dozier who was pastor of Mattituck’s Unity Baptist Church.
Mr. Lechmanski was valedictorian of his Shelter Island High School class of 1972, and went on to earn his undergraduate degree in industrial arts from SUNY Oswego in 1976. He was appointed as an industrial arts teacher at Southampton High School in 1976.
Sadly, the program is no longer being taught in Southampton, Mr. Lechmanski said, lamenting the loss that he’s convinced taught students “how to think.”
Put some in a traditional algebra class and they’ll be bored, he said. But give them a reason to learn the math to do the mechanical work that fascinates them and they will learn.
One of the early assignments to his students was to take a flat piece of steel and make a tool box with it. Mr. Lechmanski recalls one parent who, looking at the fine craftsmanship in the tool box, couldn’t believe it hadn’t been purchased, but was actually made by his son.
The students also learned to make the tools that would be kept in their boxes.
He taught skills in metals manufacturing, wood construction, residential home construction, materials processing, small engines, automotive repairs, furniture construction, plastics, design, architectural drawing, graphic arts and a course with the physics department staff called “the science of technology.”
Mr. Lechmanski was an adviser to the class of 1982, chaperoned school trips and sports events, and kept the clock and scoreboard for the boy’s freshmen, junior varsity and varsity basketball teams.
What some teachers never learn was something that came naturally to Mr. Lechmanski: “You demand respect as a teacher, but you also have to give respect back to the students.”
He still gets calls from some of his students who have gone on to successful careers using the skills they first encountered in his classroom.
“I do miss the actual teaching,” he said, explaining that he left the job because the district was offering a buyout package to senior teachers that was too good to refuse.
“I had a good run over there,” he said, noting that he worked for 33 years in the same school and the same three rooms where he had started his teaching career.
“It was a rare occasion when Doc and the Doclings could not fix what needed to be fixed or build what needed to be built,” said Darren Phillips, chairman of the Wall of Distinction selection committee and director of athletics, physical education and wellness.