Erick Farris likes to recycle.

Not just water bottles and cardboard boxes, but household items like vacuum cleaners and lamps, too. In fact, his car rolled off the assembly line two decades before he was even born and his home is filled with refurbished appliances and antique furniture. Among the treasures in his office are an old electric fan that dates back to the 1960s and a calculator from the early days of VHCC, complete with an inventory control tag that indicates it was an expensive piece of equipment in its day.

It all started with a Walt Disney movie.

“Every little kid goes through a Herbie phase,” he said. “I just never got over it.”

By the time Erick was 14, he was already saving to buy a Volkswagen Beetle, much like the one featured in the 1968 film The Love Bug. By the time he had enough to buy a 1973 model – nicely equipped with a lifetime of rust and a family of rodents – he had convinced his father to help with the restoration project.

And that, Erick said, is what he treasures most.

Together, they spent hundreds of hours over a two-year period, rewiring the electrical system, hammering out the dents, searching for needed parts, applying paint, reupholstering the seats, and completing all the other repairs – piece by piece, little by little, doing and often redoing – until the finished product was road worthy.

“I didn’t want to just have the car, I wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “I did this with my dad. I am so blessed to be able to spend time with him. That’s what makes this car so valuable to me. That’s what makes it priceless.”

Together they’ve also refinished furniture, repaired vintage appliances, and restored a second Volkswagen – this time choosing a 1974 model and applying lessons learned during the first go-round to make it a real showpiece. They usually work to transform the dented and rusted into showroom condition, but there is one exception. Erick said he will keep the 1966 Snapper lawnmower that his late grandfather purchased new, serviced regularly and used for nearly 50 years, in its current condition. It is a reminder of the man he loved and a simpler time when items were repaired rather than replaced.

A graduate of John Battle High School, Erick originally planned to pursue an engineering degree at VHCC, but ultimately graduated with degrees in Electrical Technology and Energy Technology. He returned to campus last year to complete the Career Studies Certificate in Mechatronics and, while making a class presentation, discovered his true passion – teaching.

When long-time faculty member Joe Mitchell left, Erick was asked to apply for the vacant position. Now with a whole semester under his belt, he said “it just feels right.”

His students are a mix of young and old, so Erick said there are many opportunities to solve problems together. He plans the day’s lesson and keeps order in the classroom, but “there’s more than one teacher in the room. We learn from each other.”

And Erick has also learned from past experience. Each Wednesday, he makes it a point to take a few minutes during his lunch break to drive by a retail store where he once worked. He learned patience and how to deal with customers there and, he admits, now appreciates his current job more because of the time he spent there.

He loves his faculty position so much, in fact, that he’s been watching David Smith, who recently celebrated his 45th work anniversary. When he reaches that milestone, Erick said he’ll likely retire and spend more time at yard sales and flea markets in search of items for his workshop.

Until then, he’s polishing his teaching skills and thinking about continuing his education. He also finds time most days for a leisurely 10 to 13 mile run. What started as a way to shed a few pounds is now a favorite hobby that helps him clear his mind and stay in shape. It’s just one more example of how focused he is when working toward a goal.

And there’s one other thing that means the world to him.

When he doesn’t have night classes, he makes it a point to have dinner with his father – a real sit-down meal without TV or cell phones; just two men talking about their day.

“When the time comes, I’ll do the same with my family,” he said. “Time spent together is so valuable. I’m fortunate, so blessed really, to have that opportunity.”

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