After 21 years of laying the foundation for hundreds of masonry students in Northeast Wisconsin, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) instructor John Zellner has been named the John B. Scola Instructor of the Year by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC).
The award is given annually to one outstanding educator who exemplifies excellence in the masonry craft and related training. The BAC union chose Zellner out of over 300 nominees from across the United States and Canada.
“It means what I have done for the last 21 years is worth something to somebody and that I have helped teach students the trade and the legacy of their work,” said John Zellner, retired NWTC instructor of apprenticeship masonry and construction.
“I am so thrilled to have John named instructor of the year by the BAC. His knowledge and talents have shaped our students in and out of the classroom. He works tirelessly for the trade, his students, NWTC and the union,” said Gene Francisco, NWTC associate dean of construction and transportation.
For Zellner, his commitment to education and training began at a young age. His father, Alvin S., was a mason for 40 years. After World War II, he started laying brick and block for a local contractor. “My dad knew just how important it was to receive quality training. When it came time for me to learn the trade, he made sure I received the proper specialized training he never did,” said Zellner.
That passion led him to graduate from NWTC and eventually brought him back to teach and mentor hundreds of apprentices.
Zellner added I wanted to pass on my knowledge and what other bricklayers taught me to the students.
“ And that is the big part of teaching. Taking your knowledge and the knowledge of those before you and passing it on. Because once you’re gone, that knowledge is gone. You have to pass it on to the younger generation,” he said.
Zellner not only shared his trade at NWTC, but in local high schools. He worked with students at Denmark, Florence, Oconto Falls and Kimberly High Schools. Much of their work is still visible today around the schools and cities.
With each brick, masons leave behind a lasting legacy. “It’s something you don’t think of. It’s your mark in history as a tradesperson. This brick will be here till someone decides to tear it down,” said Zellner.
These days, he has moved out of the masonry shop, retiring after over two decades with NWTC. Zellner now spends his days working in his rose garden and fishing in northern Wisconsin.
He will be presented with the John B. Scola award at the BAC International convention in Baltimore, Maryland this fall.
About the BAC
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the BAC represents 100,000 skilled masonry workers in the United States and Canada. The BAC is the oldest continuous construction union in North America.