Joseph Ehly worked to earn money at a younger age than most boys. Shoveling snow or cutting grass, he knew that his parents couldn’t afford anything beyond the most basic necessities.
Coming from a low-income family of seven children, Joseph learned to be independent, responsible and resourceful. He built upon these traits at Williamson, where character and work ethic are instilled in young men from economically disadvantaged backgrounds like his own.
Joseph’s interest in the trades was sparked early on. He watched his father, a skilled auto body mechanic, work on cars and electrical and construction projects around the house. “As a little boy, I helped pick up things for him.”
Growing up, he and his older brother, Brian, were in charge of their five younger siblings when their parents went out. Being part of a big family taught him the importance of doing his part to contribute.
Although Joseph’s parents were on a limited income, they prioritized sending their kids to Catholic schools. Joseph’s mother had gone to public high school then switched to a Catholic school her final two years. She paid for it herself.
Joseph also knew what he wanted in a high school education and the challenge it would be to pay for it.
In eighth grade, he decided to attend a private vocational-technical high school. “I had the opportunity to go to a school where I could learn a trade and figure out what I wanted to do,” Joseph says.
Joseph encouraged his brother, Brian (2W0), who was going to a Catholic high school nearby, to join him in enrolling in Mercy Career & Technical High School in Philadelphia. His parents paid for the first year. For the remaining years, the Maguire Foundation provided scholarships that picked up part of the tuition, while Joseph and his brother paid the rest of it working during the summer. The Maguire Foundation strives to support promising students like the Ehly brothers from grade school through college. It serves as a lifeline for low-income families, providing scholarships to educational institutions that will better students’ chance for success.
Joseph was well-prepared for Williamson. At Mercy, he studied Electricity, Carpentry, Plumbing and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC). “I got a taste of pretty much everything and I enjoyed electricity the most.” He thought out of high school he would go straight into the Electrician’s Union.
But a presentation on Williamson that he attended changed his mind. “Hey, I should just give this a shot,” he recalls thinking.
Once he arrived at Williamson, Joseph jumped right into Power Plant. His brother, Brian, was a year ahead, and although Joseph’s choices seemed to mimic his brother’s – same shop, same internships – staff and faculty saw the boys as very different and having different strengths.
Brian is more serious than Joe, who’s more outgoing and congenial, says Director of Career Services Margaret Kingham. “Joe livens up the class.” Ms. Kingham has worked with both brothers, helping them with interview prep and resume writing.
“I love working with the brothers. And these two are so different. Joseph is lighthearted and can be very funny. He can get very serious when he has to, but he knows where the line is. His brother Brian doesn’t go near the line.”
Power Plant Director Scott Chilman says that the brothers have good character and integrity, the hallmark of a Williamson education.
When coronavirus restrictions shut down Williamson last spring, the Ehly boys stayed connected through online classes and group chats with shop mates. The brothers also found side jobs, working on the renovation of an Air B&B. The opportunity came through Williamson, which has a wide network of businesses and individual contractors that students can tap into even during a pandemic.
This past summer, Joseph interned with California Boiler, where Brian had already started a full-time job as a boiler service technician. The company has been a big supporter of Power Plant students, providing them with internships and full-time employment in California.
“A field service technician travels around to different power plants,” Joseph explains, “while an operator stays in one place.” His end goal, Joseph says, is to be an operator and not be moving around. Joseph wants a big family someday; being an operator allows for that.
Joseph hasn’t decided yet if he will go to work full time for California Boiler. “I never thought I would move so far away from home for a job because I’m such a family-oriented person, but if the work is there, my parents have told me, ‘go for it.’”
While Joseph gets ready to graduate and Brian is working, Bradley, a third Ehly brother, can be seen working in the Brick Shop as part of this year’s Freshman class. They’ve started a tradition by attending Williamson, that could pass down to their three younger brothers still at home. Until then, Joseph and his brothers, Brian and Bradley, the first generation in their family to attend college, are making their mark at Williamson.
“We should thank the Ehlys for sharing their kids with us!” Ms. Kingham says.
Your support makes it possible for students like Joseph to attend Williamson College of the Trades with a full scholarship that covers tuition, room, and board. You can help to prepare the next generation of Williamson Men to be respected leaders and productive members of society by Making a Gift Today.