LEADING THE WAY - Robert Monachella
LEADING THE WAY
Legend Nominee: Robert Monachella
I believe teachers fulfill one of the highest callings among inspirational professions. Educators and instructors are a cornerstone in the process of creating personal transformation; unlocking a person’s fullest potential, instilling knowledge, while greatly impacting our society and future one individual at a time.
This Legend article features Oklahoma resident, Robert Monachella – a seasoned truck driver with a career high of 2.5 million lifetime miles throughout his 30 years of professional driving experience. After retiring from Yellow Transportation Inc. (formerly, Yellow Freight); the largest subsidiary of YRC Worldwide back in 2004, Robert accepted a teaching position at the technical institute located in Oklahoma known as, Central Technology Center.
Upon announcing his second retirement at the start of the new year, his 15-year tenancy as lead instructor of the Central Tech CDL Truck Driver Training Program at the campus isn’t quite over. His personal compromise, in hopes to allocate his recently available schedule is to divvy out time between transitioning into the full swing of retirement and remaining at Central Tech in assisting the introduction of their latest educational course, the Second Chance Program; created in the interest of filling the need for professional truck drivers.
Central Tech is one of 29 public institutions among the 58 campus locations owned by the state of Oklahoma. As a leader in technology education and specialized career training for over 50 years, students of Central Tech receive academic skills and training opportunities, earning education-and-work-related credentials, graduating well-qualified professionals entering today’s industry workforce. As their mission states: “Our purpose is to elevate, educate and empower.”
As the truck driver training instructor, Robert’s driving career over-the-road allows him to bridge the gap between himself and his student drivers. Understanding the importance of vehicle maintenance and safety procedures, he also shares his insight from hands-on experience. Since hanging up his trucking keys, he has since dedicated his time and effort in assisting others to achieve their career goals through discipline, proper training, and knowledge of the trucking industry. His willingness to remain actively involved as the teacher leading the Second Chance Program, speaks to the high expectation of the curriculum.
“The gift of great teachers is the ability to help students find meaning in what we ask them to learn.”
-Dr. Jane S. Halonen/Psychologist Professor
To guide the development of a student’s growth and advancement is the beginning step to mentorship. Robert deviates from the typical teacher role and seeks a deeper connection to enhance communication with each student; recognizing that in order to teach his students they must first be willing to learn. And second, eager to succeed. In response to his teaching strategy, he has witnessed a tremendous improvement in the progress of his students.
Robert’s keen interest and sense of satisfaction for his profession has appointed him the pertinent teacher to spearhead the Second Chance Program. Given his background in the trucking industry, and desire to seize this opportunity to possibly change lives as he helps prepare them for the driving force in which he thrived, it’s Robert’s patience and compassion – accompanied with his experience – that has served as his core teaching tools for students… and for himself. Robert says,
“I continue to learn from each one of my trainees, as much as they learn from me. Never stop learning, knowledge is power. The more you know, the better equipped you are moving forward – especially in the trucking industry. It’s not just about driving a semi-truck, but how to do it safely and for the benefit of your future. If I can help these students learn how to navigate through this business and discover how to truly live a life of success, however they wish to define the term, then I am determined to help them reach that goal.”
Central Tech is a non-profit school that includes housing and low tuition cost for truck driver students. Their programs offer customized training for specialized carriers in search of specifically skilled professionals. Central Tech maintains a 98% job placement rate for student graduates. The Second Chance Program was introduced at Central Tech in the Fall of 2019, after multiple proposals. As they say, timing is everything. On a trial run following a strict screening process, ten candidates were selected to participate. The apprenticeship program offers ex-offenders a second chance with on-the-job training to become qualified and skilled truck drivers, as well as, succeed in attaining a fresh start in the right direction. Six students were chosen – all of which have flourished under the guidance of everyone involved with the program and are currently thriving as professionals on the road today. With the projected success, Robert looks forward to being a part of the school’s lifesaving venture… as he too believes in second chances.
Born the middle son of three boys during the mid-40’s, Robert’s call to war was announced when he turned 19. Before being drafted into the Army, he worked at the same manufacturing plant as his parents, the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation; an aerospace manufacturer based in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. His father, a production planner; his mother, a timekeeper, while he operated a blueprint machine.
Robert completed his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood and AIT in Georgia, stationed at Fort Gordon. Afterwards, he was sent to Würzburg, Germany for 19 months assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division. While stationed overseas, Robert learned how to drive semi-trucks. Once trained, he began bobtailing 2 ½-ton trucks delivering mail to satellite bases. Occasionally, he was tasked with transporting fuel with a 5-ton tractor. He also worked as a dispatcher for eight months.
Out of the military and back to the states, he returned to McDonnell Aircraft assuming his previous position. When the economy took a hit, recession and job cuts affected everyone. Robert was able to rely on the ingenuity gained from his time in the service, landing a job with a local concrete company as their dispatcher. Two years later, he relocated to Oklahoma – during that time, military experience had not warranted enough recognition to be accepted as driving experience – Robert explains how he had to build his career working for individuals for very little pay, until he earned the work history sufficient for hire at a trucking company.
The structure of the trucks in that era were also unconventional: standup cabs, with no power steering, or air ride suspension. The equipment today feature model trucks with automatic transmissions, custom sleepers, even heating and air conditioning. Robert says the evolution of trucks is similar to night and day, while the professional driver must also be as flexible with change, in order to adapt and survive.
Robert hit the road on his own by the age of 24, learning the ropes running local work. With the Vietnam War still in force, he switched to long-haul transporting hazardous materials to ammunition bases located in California. Over the course of three decades, he went on to pull doubles, triples, and two 48-foot trailers, often running sleeper team and as a solo driver. Crossing over from the driver’s seat into the teachers role was never the initial plan, although his transition proved fairly smooth, in part to his earlier influences while serving in the military. Stating,
“I had the privilege of having not just one, but two significant people in my life during my time in the Army. I would have followed them straight into Vietnam. They instilled the importance of discipline, which ultimately helping me become the husband, father, and instructor I am today. Experiencing various cultures and observing different walks of life has enlightened my point of view on many things, as I’ve matured over the years.
Being granted this opportunity to be involved with the Second Chance Program continues to impact my life. Starting with the Army, it changed me… and the trucking industry added to the beautiful revelation of what this world has to offer. As an instructor, I’ve learned that there is a melting pot of opportunities to serve; between building relationships, exchanging experiences, and improving the belief that we are all worthy of a second chance.”
While running over-the-road, Robert and his wife, Debra understood the intricate lifestyle that both were required to accept in order for their marriage to overcome any obstacles. A mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s obligations outweighed the expected challenges. This technique of teamwork mentality, Robert credits as the foundation of his strong marriage.
He extends those same values toward the efforts in creating and maintaining a positive presence as an instructor. Pursuing objectives for the enrichment of all involved – adding, his ability to impact students is a direct result of a much broader picture than of him alone. He explains, everything at Central Tech is achieved through teamwork and comraderie among the instructors. And without the support of their director, John Thorpe, the Second Chance Program would not be possible. Robert said it best, “That’s what is so special about being a non-profit school, we are here for the students. We are solely here to help them succeed.”
The adjustment from being away on the road to living at home full-time came with its challenges. After 41 years of marriage, Robert and Debra had to learn how to co-exist under the same roof after a lifetime of balancing the lifestyle that entails the truck driver’s profession. Admitting his absence during birthdays and many important events, Robert was never comfortable with sacrificing his home-time as a part of the job. He admires Debra’s devotion to their family, particularly their two daughters – raising them while supporting his driving career.
Robert says, “My wife’s value to this family is absolute. Between my change in careers and jobs, she has stood by my side every bit of the way. She is the reason I try so hard – I want to be the person she deserves.”
Enjoying homelife every night and weekends together, the two ride motorcycles and remain busy with their growing family of 3 grand-children and 4 great grand-children. Having spent so many years separated from his loved ones, led to his retirement from the road. With his second wind, a new found passion for teaching, and a journey of unspoken survival, Robert’s life may have reduced in speed but increased with ambition.
If retirement should find him stepping away from the industry altogether, Robert hopes to be remembered as a beacon of hope – as an inspiration of positivity and example that change is possible. Having lived a life full of experiences, his only advice is to judge others less; instead, encourage confidence in one another. And most importantly, spread hope – hope for a future where humanity knows compassion.