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Annual Report | Technology: Teacher guided BHS graduate to tech field

BEMIDJI - Bemidji High School teacher Ron LeClaire always advised his students to pursue further education as they prepared for their futures.

That message stayed with Chris Oelrich, a Bemidji native who graduated from BHS in 2001.

Oelrich listened as his construction technology teacher told his students to invest in an education and pursue a career that interested them. Oelrich recalled asking LeClaire what would be a good job in the Bemidji area. The teacher responded that his brother-in-law worked for Paul Bunyan Communications and it seemed to be a great place to work.

"That's kind of how I became interested," Oelrich said.

Oelrich enrolled in a two-year program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena, graduating in 2003.

A lot of the textbook-based education didn't much appeal to him, but Oelrich said he enjoyed the shop classes, particularly those that introduced students to the outside plant technologies.

"You get in a vehicle and you go conquer what you can," he said.

He worked at Blackduck Telephone and then joined Paul Bunyan Communications nearly nine years ago.

The courses in Wadena provided him with the basics of how electronics work, Oelrich said. They teach you how to slice, how dial tones are generated, how to get started.

Once in the workforce, he said, he was taught the ins and outs of each company.

Transitioning from Blackduck Telephone to Paul Bunyan Communications was not too difficult, he said, as the work generally was similar, but Paul Bunyan Communications had more advanced technology. Paul Bunyan Communications purchased Blackduck Telephone in 2008.

Oelrich now is an installation repair tech in the Kelliher/Blackduck/Waskish area, working eight hours a day, five days a week.

"You cover a lot of ground in a day's time," he said.

Techs based inside the Bemidji city limits have their work broken up as two employees respond to troubleshooting calls and the remaining techs focus on installations.

Those working in the city usually have two or three calls a day, sometimes as many as four, Oelrich said.

Oelrich, though, had a list of five troubleshooting calls one day in early June.

"I don't mind the long days," he said. "When you're busy like that, time flies so fast."

The busiest days, he noted, are those following a storm.

"The day after storms, we can run ragged for days," he said, noting he has worked 12-and 14-hour shifts. "Some days are tremendous."