TRAVERSE CITY — There were nearly as many stories as beads of sweat under all the darkened masks on a muggy morning last week.
One woman was learning a new skill before her woodworking business launches. Another was making herself more diversified at her job.
A third wanted to use a welding machine she inherited from her Uncle Howard. A fourth has easy access to welding equipment for use on a livestock ranch, but not a trained operator.
The sold-out Women Who Weld workshop returned to Traverse City and Northwestern Michigan College's Aero Park Laboratories building on Friday. Founder Samantha Farr was more than happy to bring her 501(c)(3) nonprofit that teaches women how to weld and find employment in the welding industry north, from metro Detroit, to work with NMC welding instructor Devan DePauw.
"I came back because this is such an awesome facility and we had such a good time (last year)," Farr said.
"Working with Devan is awesome. When we left here he said, 'We'd love to have you back.' "As it so happened, it was one year exactly since we were here and we'd love to keep coming back."
Two of the women attending the one-day workshop are looking to take what they learned forward into fresh careers.
Leah Headrick, who moved to TC from New York City a year and a half ago, is launching her own business. She's in the process if creating a website and is leaning toward naming her new enterprise Leah Headrick Designs.
"I'm in the process of teaching myself woodworking," she said. "Hopefully I'll be able to sell some tables eventually. I'm here to learn how to weld so I can create my own bases to the tables, which would be great."
Tina Gutierrez wants to enhance her position at TriMet Industries. Gutierrez said she has been working at TriMet for a few months as a machinist.
"I want to learn how to do everything in there," she said. "I figured learning how to weld would make me versatile. Then you're an asset to the company."
A female welder at TriMet showed Gutierrez a story about the Women Who Weld event. Gutierrez took it to her boss, who not only paid the workshop fee, but also gave her a paid day off to attend.
Gutierrez said previous experience in soldering, as well as a part-time hobby, helped her pick up the welding techniques quickly. Farr said both of those skills translate into welding.
"I do tattooing as a hobby and I found learning how to tattoo is an asset in welding," Gutierrez said. "You pretty much have to have the patience and dexterity."
Fern Spence, of Traverse City, inherited a welding machine from her uncle and intends to give it to her 14-year-old son. So she signed up for the workshop with safety at the forefront.
"I'm taking this class so I can confidently know how to set up the equipment and set up the space," Spence said.
Joanne Ogur, property manager for a 560-acre ranch near Fife Lake, said she has access to a machine, but often lacks an operator. Ogur said there are plenty of opportunities for using the new skill for fixing fences, gates and a trailer tongue that's been sitting far too long.
"I can borrow a welding machine, but it doesn't always come with a welder," Ogur said. "I'm sick of asking the guys for help. I'd rather do it myself."
In a way, that's also what Women Who Weld tries to accomplish.
Farr said the early results speak for themselves. She has lofty goals for the coming year, and said a permanent facility in the Detroit area will help make it happen.
"We have trained 74 women in 2017 and our goal is to train 280 women in 2018," Farr said.
Farr said she'd love to come back to Traverse City next summer and perhaps expand beyond a one-day workshop. Women Who Weld did not have any repeat attendees in Traverse City, which Farr said is a great sign.
"It means they don't need introduction to welding anymore, and probably have their own machines and they're welding on their own," Farr said of last year's participants.