"I'm head over heels about education,” says Drew Vanderford.
This passion blossomed from seeds planted by his teachers at West Kentucky State Vocational-Technical School in Paducah, where he learned woodworking and construction.
“Teachers had a love for us that you would not believe,” he says. “They saw to it that we got our education--not just in trade school, but in life.”
When Drew, 69, found himself idling at home after a long and successful career in construction, his eldest daughter, a teacher, urged him to start volunteering at a school. A profound labor of love and loyalty was born.
For five years, Drew has volunteered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Clark Elementary School, a schedule complicated by serious health problems that require at-home treatments. Drew feels so strongly about being there for the students that he sacrifices one day of his treatment a week, risking his personal health to teach. It if weren’t for his medical condition, he says, he would be there every day of the week.
“Mr. Vanderford is like the Chrysler Building in New York for us,” says Erin Saunders, assistant principal at Clark Elementary. “He’s become part of the scenery.”
Although Drew is too modest to admit it, she says, he plays a very important role for the students.
"He serves as a role model and mentor for lots of young people who don’t have a male influence," says Steve Ybarzabal, principal of Clark Elementary. “He’s also a great mentor for fathers and grandfathers who might not know the best way to teach.”
As the children stream into the hallway after the bell, Drew smiles.
“You’ve got to see love away from home," he says. "That kind of starts you off in life.”