Pennsylvania College of Technology celebrates 100 years

The foundation of America wasn’t built in Hollywood or the arenas of professional sports. It was built by the common person who had the skills learned from a childhood of building and “tinkering.”

And in order to regain America’s strength in the world, John Ratzenberger, host and producer of Travel Channel’s “Made in America,” said the country must go back to its roots and encourage youth to study applied technology and learn by doing.

This was Ratzenberger’s message during the kick off of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s centennial celebration held Thursday at two separate events.

Ratzenberger, well known for his roles as the know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin in TV’s “Cheers” and as the voice of Hamm in Pixar’s “Toy Story,” spoke with Penn College students, and staff and administrators at the two events.

But before he ever graced the small screen, Ratzenberger, son of a truck driver and factory worker, was a carpenter. He said his childhood didn’t involve video games and television, but hammers and ingenuity.

“I grew up in an era where we made stuff,” he told the crowd at the Community Arts Center.

This is a far cry from today, where the youth rely on others to help them, he said.

But Ratzenberger said that seeing the students and programs at Penn College gives him hope that the youth of the country again will see the value in jobs such as an automotive mechanic or welder.

“You are the strength of America,” Ratzenberger told a group of Penn College students. “Manufacturing is to America what spinach is to Popeye. That’s you.”

He added that while actors and professional athletes may get the fame, they don’t contribute to the overall operation of the nation.

“You don’t need sports stars. You don’t need football games all weekend they’re not necessary,” Ratzenberger said. “But imagine if all of the trucks pulled off the road. Imagine all of the welders took the day off.”

“Civilization would grind to a halt. It would just stop,” he added. “Those are the real heroes.”

Ratzenberger noted that the country was made by “self-reliant people.” In the country’s inception, high-ranking officials were farmers and understood the life of the common person.

It was during the discussion of the skills of founding fathers that Ratzenberger suggested a new requirement for running for political office: assembling a piece of furniture.

“If you can’t do that, then why are you in the position to dictate laws that affect my family and myself?” he asked.

The country has strayed from its foundation of hardwork and problem-solving, Ratzenberger said. And if it is to get back on track, he said it would be because of the skilled worker.

“If we don’t start encouraging young people to pick up tool boxes and get those skills then we’re in a lot of trouble,” he said.

As Ratzenberger explained, manufacturing and “tinkering” did not only play a part in the birth of the nation, but in every great feat since.

From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, those remembered in history are not in movies or seen in the gossip columns. The ones who are truly remembered are those that built.

“If you want to be famous, invent something that’s useful,” Ratzenberger said. “That’s fame.”

“That’s forever,” he stressed.

Ratzenberger called the students of Penn College his heroes saying that they would be the one’s to continue the successful evolution of the country.

“You are the future of the country,” he told students.

And it is institutes like Penn College that Ratzenberger enjoys visiting.

“You’re teaching young people to do things,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for that.”