MATTOON, Ill. — “This is different every day. It’s always challenging and it’s very interesting. You’ve got to really be the type of individual that likes to find answers. This career path is never going to be boring.”
Those are the words of Woody Reinhart, describing the careers that his students in the diesel and ag power program at Lake Land College have and will have.
They could be describing Reinhart and his second career.
Reinhart is relatively new to teaching at Lake Land College, having only been in his job as instructor in and coordinator of the Lake Land College diesel and ag power program for eight years, starting in 2014.
But he’s been connected to the college as a student and a supporter for nearly all of his adult life and he’s been teaching, in some form or fashion, for all of his career in agriculture.
“If you don’t go back and look at history a little bit, you don’t know how you’ve succeeded and evolved,” he said.
Looking back at the history of diesel and ag power and agricultural equipment is right in his wheelhouse. Reinhart, a native of Mattoon, was a teenager when his father switched careers, purchasing a local farm equipment dealership.
“I took an interest in it because I worked in and out of it during high school,” Reinhart said.
He attended Lake Land College as a transfer student and earned his bachelor’s degree in ag economics from the University of Illinois in 1979. It wasn’t a prime time to be looking for a job in the ag industry, as Reinhart soon found as he started his job search, venturing out to the West Coast to see if there were any openings.
“There were no jobs to be found. I came back and, without any job prospects, I went back to work in the dealership with my father,” he said.
Reinhart worked as the shop foreman and the parts manager. Throughout his 30-year career in those jobs at Reinhart Ford Tractor and, later, Farm Pride, after the dealership merged with another, larger dealership, Reinhart was teaching, even if he didn’t recognize it as part of his jobs.
“When I went to interview at Lake Land, some of the people at the college made the point that I had really been doing this, teaching, for years. I was teaching not only the interns that we had from Lake Land, but I was educating our customers a lot of times on different things,” he said.
During his time working at the dealership, Reinhart became a member of the ag advisory board at Lake Land and continued to support the college’s ag and diesel programs. When the program’s instructor retired in 2014, members of that board urged Reinhart to apply for the job.
“At that point, I was not sure I wanted to change careers, but I was beginning to get burned out, as well,” Reinhart said.
One of the reservations he had was working with people who were going to be younger than his typical customers in the farm equipment business.
“In the dealership, I was dealing with people who were typically 50 years old and older,” he said.
After stepping into the college atmosphere and a new career as a college instructor, Reinhart found the move not as daunting as he first thought.
“The education side of things I had already been doing all those years, just not on a formal basis. So, it really wasn’t that hard of a transition,” he said.
He also is able to use knowledge from his first career in his new career.
“One of the benefits I think my students get is the experience I bring in from having worked at the dealership. I try to utilize that in the classroom. My career in the dealership covers so many years that I cover the history and the foundation of how we got to where we are at today in agriculture and in ag technology,” he said.
One big difference from his work at the dealership for Reinhart is covering a wide range of makes and types of diesel and ag brands and equipment. It’s something he continues to work on, to expand the types of equipment and technology his students have access to, as well as the brands of equipment.
“I like the program because it’s a diverse program. It’s open for all types of machinery, from ag to industrial, consumer products, power generation. They get to learn about a broad spectrum of not only equipment, but brands, so it opens their eyes to different internships and opportunities,” he said.
Lake Land College also hosts a John Deere TECH Program that is supported by John Deere and solely dedicated to training students to become John Deere technicians.
Keeping up with the constantly changing field of diesel and ag technology is a challenge, but one that isn’t unfamiliar to someone whose first career spanned three decades in ag equipment and technology.
“It’s the biggest challenge, but it’s also so interesting to keep up with the changes and to see what is going on in agriculture and on farms. The technology and the machinery on farms today is changing so fast. Precision agriculture is taking hold on more and more farms,” Reinhart said.
Reinhart’s motivation is his students and the college that’s been a part of his life for so many years.
“It’s really nice to have students in class that ask, ‘why?’ That’s what really gets me going. I enjoy teaching and helping them see things so they can go anywhere they want with their career. When I see light bulbs going off all the time, that keeps me going,” he said.
Along with his students, the college where he started as a student and now works as an instructor has a place close to his heart.
“I have gone full circle with Lake Land College. I just love this campus and what it offers and what it provides for the youth and for adult learners in this area,” Reinhart said.
He and his wife, Debbie, have two daughters, two granddaughters and a third grandchild on the way. Both of Reinhart’s sons-in-law work in the ag mechanics industry.
Even when he’s off the teaching clock, Reinhart isn’t far away from his subject matter.
“My hobby is restoring older equipment. I have a 1936 Chevrolet truck and I’m working on some old steel-wheeled tractors,” he said.